A new bill has been approved to change the compensation package from the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA). This program pays for health care for children born with birth injuries in the state of Florida.
House Approves Increase of Compensation for NICA Program
Florida lawmakers approved a bill calling for an overhaul of NICA benefits on April 29, 2021.
Republican Rep. Traci Koster sponsored the House version of the bill known as HB 1165. Floridian House lawmakers approved the new NICA reform package with a 112-2 vote.
The Florida House of Representatives voted to swap in the Senate version of the bill, known as SB 1786, sponsored by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess. The House lawmakers unanimously approved the new bill.
Changes to the Birth Injury Compensation Program
The new reform package boosts the initial payment to parents or legal guardians of children with neurological injuries accepted into the NICA program from $100,000 to $250,000. It also includes a retroactive compensation amount of $150,000.
The bill also requires NICA to provide $10,000 each year for mental health care to immediate family members of program members. The reform also raises the stipend for families to make their homes handicap-accessible from $30,000 to $100,000.
The death benefit payout for children with neurological injuries to pay for final expenses will also increase from $10,000 to $50,000.
What Is NICA?
The Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) was founded in 1988 and manages the Florida Birth Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan.
This plan pays for the care of children born with certain neurological injuries. The plan is available to eligible families in the state of Florida with no legal representation needed.
NICA aims to eliminate costly legal proceedings and ensure that infants with birth injuries receive compensation quickly while reducing financial burden on families and medical providers.
NICA’s goals include:
- Encourage physicians to practice obstetrics and make obstetrical services available to patients
- Stabilize and help to make malpractice insurance available to all physicians
- Provide needed care to injured children
Benefits of NICA
NICA benefits aim to provide compensation for all expenses related to a child’s birth injury. The new reformed NICA program gives benefits to 215 Florida families in the program.
NICA benefits can help pay for:
- Family residential or custodial care
- Hospital stays
- Professional residential and custodial care
- Related travel expenses
- Special equipment and facilities
Who Qualifies for NICA?
There are several qualifications that must be met for a family to be eligible for NICA benefits. NICA benefits can only be requested if your child was born in a NICA participating hospital and is being cared for by a doctor that is a member of NICA. A petition for benefits must be filed before the child’s fifth birthday.
To be eligible for NICA, children must have:
- An injury to the spinal cord or brain
- Been born alive
- Birth weight of 2,500 grams (5 lbs. 8 oz.) or 2,000 (4 lbs. 6.5 oz.) for a multiple birth
- Injuries caused by oxygen deprivation, mechanical injury during labor, delivery, or resuscitation immediately after delivery
- Permanent mental and physical impairments
Children born with genetic or congenital abnormalities are not eligible for NICA benefits.
Controversy About Reform to the Birth Injury Compensation Program
Many believe there are benefits to the NICA program, but others speak out against it and call for more changes — or for it to be eliminated altogether.
An investigation by The Legal Examiner found that many valid claims submitted to NICA were rejected even when the service is vital to caring for someone living with a significant brain injury. Families struggle to be reimbursed by NICA for treatment needed by applicants.
The up-front payment amount of $100,000 was established in 1988 and has not changed since NICA was founded. The new bill would increase the up-front payment by 40%. Many argue that this is still not enough money to pay for the costs associated for individuals living with severe disabilities.
It is important to note that families are not allowed to file medical malpractice claims while participating in NICA. Some critics argue that medical malpractice lawsuits often result in more money to the family compared to the benefits received through NICA.
Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned was one of two lawmakers that voted no and spoke out against the bill. Learned believes the new Senate version of the bill will not help families.
“We had a Senate version come over that included benefits for existing NICA parents, and then the strike-all amendment took all of that language out. … And now, it only helps parents going forward, which means that every parent with a heartbreaking story that came to speak to any of you, or come to speak to us in any committee, this bill is not going to help. This bill leaves those people behind.”
– Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned
SB 1786 will now go to Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval. The new provisions proposed for the NICA program will go into effect immediately once approved by the governor.