The Legislature finds and declares that:
The citizens of this state are entitled to the best medical care and facilities available and that health care providers offer an essential and basic service which requires that the public policy of this state encourage and facilitate the provision of such service to our citizens;
As in every human endeavor the possibility of injury or death from negligent conduct commands that protection of the public served by health care providers be recognized as an important state interest;
Our system of litigation is an essential component of this state's interest in providing adequate and reasonable compensation to those persons who suffer from injury or death as a result of professional negligence, and any limitation placed on this system must be balanced with and considerate of the need to fairly compensate patients who have been injured as a result of negligent and incompetent acts by health care providers;
Liability insurance is a key part of our system of litigation, affording compensation to the injured while fulfilling the need and fairness of spreading the cost of the risks of injury;
A further important component of these protections is the capacity and willingness of health care providers to monitor and effectively control their professional competency, so as to protect the public and ensure to the extent possible the highest quality of care;
It is the duty and responsibility of the Legislature to balance the rights of our individual citizens to adequate and reasonable compensation with the broad public interest in the provision of services by qualified health care providers and health care facilities who can themselves obtain the protection of reasonably priced and extensive liability coverage;
In recent years, the cost of insurance coverage has risen dramatically while the nature and extent of coverage has diminished, leaving the health care providers, the health care facilities and the injured without the full benefit of professional liability insurance coverage;
Many of the factors and reasons contributing to the increased cost and diminished availability of professional liability insurance arise from the historic inability of this state to effectively and fairly regulate the insurance industry so as to guarantee our citizens that rates are appropriate, that purchasers of insurance coverage are not treated arbitrarily and that rates reflect the competency and experience of the insured health care providers and health care facilities;
The unpredictable nature of traumatic injury health care services often results in a greater likelihood of unsatisfactory patient outcomes, a higher degree of patient and patient family dissatisfaction and frequent malpractice claims, creating a financial strain on the trauma care system of our state, increasing costs for all users of the trauma care system and impacting the availability of these services, requires appropriate and balanced limitations on the rights of persons asserting claims against trauma care health care providers, this balance must guarantee availability of trauma care services while mandating that these services meet all national standards of care, to assure that our health care resources are being directed towards providing the best trauma care available;
The cost of liability insurance coverage has continued to rise dramatically, resulting in the state's loss and threatened loss of physicians, which, together with other costs and taxation incurred by health care providers in this state, have created a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining qualified physicians and other health care providers;
Medical liability issues have reached critical proportions for the state's long-term health care facilities, as: (1) Medical liability insurance premiums for nursing homes in West Virginia continue to increase and the number of claims per bed has increased significantly; (2) the cost to the state Medicaid program as a result of such higher premiums has grown considerably in this period; (3) current medical liability premium costs for some nursing homes constitute a significant percentage of the amount of coverage; (4) these high costs are leading some facilities to consider dropping medical liability insurance coverage altogether; and (5) the medical liability insurance crisis for nursing homes may soon result in a reduction of the number of beds available to citizens in need of long-term care; and
The modernization and structure of the health care delivery system necessitate an update of provisions of this article in order to facilitate and continue the objectives of this article which are to control the increase in the cost of liability insurance and to maintain access to affordable health care services for our citizens.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive resolution of the matters and factors which the Legislature finds must be addressed to accomplish the goals set forth in this section. In so doing, the Legislature has determined that reforms in the common law and statutory rights of our citizens must be enacted together as necessary and mutual ingredients of the appropriate legislative response relating to:
(1) Compensation for injury and death;
(2) The regulation of rate making and other practices by the liability insurance industry, including the formation of a physicians' mutual insurance company and establishment of a fund to assure adequate compensation to victims of malpractice; and
(3) The authority of medical licensing boards to effectively regulate and discipline the health care providers under such board.
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