Critics of a Florida program designed to compensate families brain-damaged infants and protect physicians and hospitals have won a push to get reforms. A series of investigative reports by ProPublica and the Miami Herald showed the failings in the program. This pushed state legislatures to pass laws reforming it and bringing more financial aid to babies and parents.
The Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA)
The Florida legislature created NICA in 1988 to compensate parents of babies born with brain damage. Accidents, negligence, and unforeseen complications can lead to brain damage during fetal development and delivery. This can cause significant disabilities, like cerebral palsy.
The purpose of NICA was to provide families in this unfortunate situation with medical care and compensation while also preventing expensive lawsuits. Medical malpractice lawsuits help victims of negligence but also drive up costs of insurance and practicing medicine.
NICA provides grants of $100,000 to qualified parents, a number that has not increased since its inception in 1988. It also pays for necessary medical care for the baby.
Investigative Reports Turn up Issues with NICA
The reporting by the Miami Herald and ProPublica uncovered serious problems with the program. The investigators highlighted these issues by profiling specific families and their struggles. One problem is that parents can be forced into NICA. When a parent begins a lawsuit over brain damage, the defendants can request that a judge look at the case and force the parent to file a NICA claim instead of suing. Many parents have felt that NICA was not an option, that they had no choice but to go along with the program.
The other main issue with NICA, according to parents, is that the program has over $1 billion in assets while families struggle to get enough compensation. The grant amount is inadequate, and parents say they have long waits for needed medical services and treatments and are often denied. Being unable to sue for damages, these parents were stuck with inadequate funds to provide care for their children.
In addition to the reforms guaranteed in the new law, NICA has been pushed to make other changes. For instance, the program will streamline many of the bureaucratic processes to make getting coverage easier and clearer for parents.
Reforms Coming to NICA
The new law will bring much-needed reforms to the program. Parents and other critics of NICA are happy with the changes but wish that they could have come sooner. The one-time grant will rise from $100,000 to $250,000. The death benefits for end-of-life care and final expenses go up from $10,000 to $50,000.
Other benefits increases include $10,000 every year for mental health care for the family and $100,000 to renovate a home for accessibility. NICA will add an enrolled parent and a disability advocate to its board of directors. It will also add a position for an ombudsman to help advocate for families.
Babies born with brain damage, whether due to negligence or other factors, face a tough future, as do their parents. The changes that will be made to NICA go a long way to helping these children get the lifelong care they need.