Medical Association challenges claims in political mailers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia State Medical Association is disputing its characterization in political mailers that take aim at its former executive director, Evan Jenkins, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Jenkins served as the executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association from 1999-2014, before making a successful run for Congress.

Jenkins has been targeted by the Duty and Country political action committee, which is associated with Democratic leaders at the national level.

The political action committee, which has former West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Booth Goodwin as its treasurer, aims to support incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin through advertisements against Republican candidates Patrick Morrisey and Evan Jenkins.

The Super PAC sent out mailers to West Virginia homes this week portraying Jenkins in swamp-like surroundings.

“From shady deals to secret payments to illegal rate increases — Jenkins is part of the problem,” the mailer says.

The mailer describes a “shady, backroom agreement with an insurance company.”

It also trumpets, “Crisis in West Virginia,” “Illegal rates” and “Secret deal.”

This is the cover of a flyer sent to West Virginia voters.

A second mailer with the same claims went to West Virginia homes this weekend.

In its own statement this week, the Medical Association disputed the claims.

“This mailer implied criminal behavior and was made with the intent to damage the reputation of the WVSMA,” the organization stated.

“The figures quoted are grossly misrepresented. A review of the articles cited shows at least one of the sources refutes the assertions made in the mailer, while others do nothing to substantiate purported statements of fact.”

The mailer cites stories that were originally printed in The Charleston Gazette and the State Journal in 2001 and 2002.

The “Crisis in West Virginia” claim from the mailers is on point because the newspaper articles were published at the height of debate about the skyrocketing cost of medical malpractice insurance.

The “Secret Deal” claim accurately but perhaps sensationally reflects the characterization in an article that described a confidential agreement.

There was no apparent mention of illegal rates in the Gazette coverage. The coverage did describe dramatically increased malpractice insurance rates being approved by the state Insurance Commission.

The main article from the Gazette was headlined, “Medical association, insurance firm make secret deal.”

The newspaper had obtained a document filed by the company Medical Assurance in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

That meant the document was public, even though it had confidential stamped across each page and was not supposed to be discussed openly by those who dealt with its terms.

Medical Assurance has been one of the state’s dominant insurance carriers for doctors.

The newspaper article described the document as an agreement between Medical Assurance with doctors represented by the Medical Association to lobby legislators on the company’s behalf.

As part of the agreement, Medical Assurance provided talking points to doctors about rising insurance costs attributable to the frequency and severity of lawsuits described as “mostly meritless.”

Medical Assurance had paid the state Medical Association at least $115,000 a year as part of the agreement, the Gazette reported in 2001.

That article from 2001 references Jenkins, who was then serving as executive director of the Medical Association: “Jenkins did not return a half-dozen phone messages left last week requesting comment on the secret agreement.”

A second 2001 Gazette article cited in the mailers dealt with the rising cost of medical insurance: “Insurance rates up dramatically.”

That year the state Insurance Commission approved a 35 percent malpractice insurance rate increase for Medical Assurance.

“Malpractice insurance rates in West Virginia are skyrocketing,” Jenkins said in that 2001 article. “The increases have only worsened a tough financial situation doctors are already in.”

The Medical Association this week challenged the specifics of how the 2001 situation was portrayed in the flyers.

“A review of the articles cited shows at least one of the sources refutes the assertions made in the mailer, while others do nothing to substantiate purported statements of fact,” the association wrote.

The association continued to state, “The WVSMA has contracts in its normal conduct of business, much like any other trade association of which there many in West Virginia.

“The WVSMA never has, nor will it ever participate in any action, with or without remuneration which would jeopardize or harm patients, public health, or physicians in West Virginia.”

The Medical Association concluded, “At no point in its 151 years of service has the WVSMA done anything that could be considered shady. This implication is ludicrous. The allegations made in this advertisement about the WVSMA are blatantly and demonstrably false.”

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