* An exodus of top physicians already is occurring in New York, in large part because of rising malpractice insurance premiums. The situation is so serious the New York state government is considering using taxpayers’ money to help stem the state’s malpractice insurance crisis.

* Hawaii's medical association reports that climbing malpractice insurance costs have created physician shortages, even in that lush paradise. According to a report by Hawaii’s KGMB-TV, 42 percent of Hawaii’s OB-GYNs and 30 percent of Hawaii's orthopedic surgeons have already either left Hawaii or made plans to stop providing pregnancy care. The cost of medical malpractice insurance rose 90 percent between 2002-2007.

* A decade ago, Philadelphia had 19 hospitals that delivered babies. Today, only eight obstetric facilities remain, in part because of the relentless rise of malpractice premiums.

Unwanted patient outcomes are spurring high-payout lawsuits that ultimately damage health care delivery to millions.

A Chicago jury rendered a $22-million verdict against a hospital and a doctor when a woman died in childbirth because her high blood pressure led to a fatal hemorrhage. The money awarded her loved ones for loss of companionship could have been used to improve child-birthing resources for countless local mothers-to-be, or for other health care needs.

Amid the varying dynamics affecting patient care, liability is a common thread. Fortunately, some states are reducing their health care bills by capping court awards against doctors and hospitals.

California - often a national trendsetter - started the reform movement in 1975 when Marcus Welby, MD was still airing on TV. California’s medical malpractice premiums dropped dramatically and its doctor shortage disappeared shortly afterward.

Texas' 2003 damage cap law is heralded for causing about 3,000 doctors to seek licenses to practice in the Lone Star State in 2007 alone.

With America's health care increases far outpacing the cost of living index, West Virginia and other judicial hellhole states should wake up and take a cue from California and Texas.

The health of their residents may depend upon it.

David A. Ridenour

David A. Ridenour is vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has held since 1986.

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