The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 25, 2009

Pharmacists given medical malpractice reform protections

By Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — Health care providers grabbed center stage Wednesday with Senate approval of bills putting pharmacists under the medical malpractice reform umbrella and making it a felony to practice medicine without a license.

Early in the session, pharmacists and representatives of pharmacies from across the state set up booths in the Capitol to plead for inclusion in massive medical malpractice reforms enacted a few years ago.

At that time, clinics were closing and many surgeons were pulling up stakes and leaving West Virginia, with insurance either unavailable or too steep to afford.

In the frenzy to approve reforms, however, the pharmacy community was overlooked.

And that, says Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician, was a mistake.

“They are health care providers,” Stollings said after the passage of SB370 on a 32-0 vote.

“They’re doing more than just prescriptions. They are doing counseling and medication adjustments.”

Decades ago, the corner pharmacist was a fixture in the white smock and horn-rimmed glasses, but his tasks generally were limited to filling up plastic bottles of pills.

All that has changed, Stollings pointed out, and today’s pharmacist provide education, for instance, in the area of diabetes counseling.

“They really do a lot more than they used to,” he said.

With the changing roles pharmacists have moved into, Stollings called it “very appropriate” that they be included in medical malpractice legal reforms.

Another medical proposal, SB293, provides a prison term of two to 10 years for the unlawful practice of medicine.

Even if the act merely entails unlawful practice without injury to a patient, it still is considered a felony, Judiciary Chairman Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, said.

But in particular, the former prosecutor emphasized, the law would apply to treatment by the unlicensed “doctor” who causes serious bodily injury, death, brain or spinal injury, disfigurement or dislocation of bones.

Kessler assured Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, that tattooing and body piercing wouldn’t fall under the terms of the proposed act.

In a related matter, the Senate passed HB3083 (identical to its own SB581) that permits a 16-year-old to donate blood with written permission of a parent or guardian. Existing law puts the threshold at age 17.

Senators also approved SB57 that removes the requirement of holding U.S. citizenship to work as a coach in a public school.

Moreover, it lets a retired coach work up to three hours daily without that time being figured into the 140 days of work before retirement is penalized.

Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer, cast the lone dissenting vote in Senate approval of SB328 that creates the West Virginia Transportation Finance Commission.

The idea is to use the commission as a conduit for grants and revolving loans so counties and cities may undertake infrastructure projects, such as a bridge or road, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said.

Sens. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Douglas Facemire, D-Braxton, were the only opposition votes to SB535 that would let border counties of Berkeley, Morgan, Jefferson, Hancock, Brooke and Ohio — and all cities within their jurisdictions — to impose a bar closing time of 2 a.m. via ordinances.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com