The House Judiciary Committee passed a medical malpractice reform bill Monday night that shelves provisions sought by Gov. Bob Wise and resembles legislation pushed by doctors, hospitals and insurers.
The bill now moves to the House floor.
The committee replaced Wise's $20 million relief fund to help doctors pay their premiums with a less-generous income tax credit. The fund was to have been paid for from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.
The committee also scrapped Wise's sliding scale for damages sought by malpractice plaintiffs for such things as pain and suffering, capping them at $250,000, adjusted annually for inflation.
"I'm sure most of the medical community will be very happy," Dr. Doug McKinney, president of the state Medical Association, said after the vote. "I think the cap was the most important thing, and it passed intact."
The bill keeps the governor's $500,000 cap for damages arising from trauma care, and his proposed $250,000 exemption for doctors forced into bankruptcy, meant to allow them to keep their houses.
The committee's vote followed a walkout by about two dozen surgeons in far northwestern West Virginia over high malpractice insurance rates.
Wise urged doctors Monday to support his legislation. "Tax credits always work on the back end," he said. "Our approach works on the front end."
Survivors of medical malpractice, meanwhile, asked lawmakers to rein in negligent doctors and insurers instead of limiting lawsuits and jury awards.
Stephanie Mills of Parkersburg said malpractice left her daughter, who turned 6 on Monday, crippled and severely brain damaged for life.
"I'm not here saying doctors are bad," Mills said at a Capitol news conference. "But we should not punish the victims of malpractice."
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