Gov. Bob Wise proposed plunging West Virginia deeper into the medical malpractice insurance business Wednesday, unveiling a $20 million plan to rescue doctors from high premium costs.

"Every qualified doctor in West Virginia will be able to get insurance and will be able to remain in West Virginia," Wise said in the annual State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Legislature.

Two dozen surgeons at four hospitals in far northwestern West Virginia have taken leaves of absence to protest the cost of malpractice insurance.

Protesting doctors are transferring some patients to facilities elsewhere in the state and in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The legislation unveiled Wednesday would provide doctors tax breaks and other credits for three years. Wise said the plan would be funded by a $20 million transfer from the state's tobacco settlement fund.

The governor also proposed capping damage awards and further limiting malpractice lawsuits.

For example, damages for pain and suffering would be capped at between $250,000 and $350,000 in most cases. Damages arising from trauma or emergency care "rendered in good faith" would be capped at $500,000.

Many of the protesting surgeons plan to meet Thursday with Insurance and Retirement Services Director Tom Susman, who will explain the legislation in detail.

Doctors said they found reason for optimism in Wise's address.

"The governor hit all the high points," Dr. Gregory Saracco said. "But (Thursday), his representative is going to come to Wheeling, and I'll have more of an opinion once I hear that."