Families with infants who suffered catastrophic birth-related injuries could soon receive a much larger initial payment from the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) if legislators pass a set of newly filed bills during the 2021 legislative session.
The bills, SB 1786, by Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, and HB 1165, by Rep.Traci Koster, a Tampa Republican, would more than double the initial cash award provided to parents or legal guardians of children accepted into the NICA program. The legislation would raise the amount from $100,000 to $250,000, increasing it annually to keep up with growing costs.
Along with the initial payment, NICA will continue lifetime payments for all medically necessary and reasonable expenses for children born with substantial physical and mental neurological injuries, including whatever is needed to support their care and quality of life. The expected average benefits to each active NICA family is nearly $5 million over the child’s lifetime.
The initial payment amount, provided to newly accepted families immediately upon their admission into the NICA program, has been capped at $100,000 since the Legislature created NICA in 1988 as a successful solution to Florida’s medical malpractice crisis of the 1980s.
“Even though it’s a large amount of money, $100,000 does not go nearly as far today as it did in 1988. Raising this initial payment to reflect today’s cost of living will lead to better outcomes for catastrophically injured children and their families,” Koster said.
“Costly malpractice litigation and attorney fees hurt our state’s obstetricians and health care community during the 1980s, and NICA has served as a critical reform that stabilized the insurance marketplace,” added Burgess. “With this increase, Florida can continue to provide critical support to families in need.”
NICA is a no-fault alternative to medical malpractice lawsuits for the kind of injuries that carry the highest cost and system impact. The program shifts those costly cases out of the tort system, helping to stabilize Florida’s medical malpractice insurance market.
Given the NICA Fund’s strong actuarial position, bolstered by recent positive investment activities, the NICA Board approved the initial payment increase last year. However, because payment limits are set in statute, the change requires approval by the Legislature.
“It’s truly devastating for a parent to learn that their child suffered a neurological injury at birth. While we cannot reverse what happened, NICA is here to provide significant financial support and to help those families get the care they need,” said Kenney Shipley, NICA executive director. “With a higher cap on how much initial support the fund can provide, we will be able to make a more immediate and positive impactful difference in the lives of these children and their families.”
Between 40 and 60 families apply to receive NICA support each year, with 35-50% typically meeting the qualification criteria. More than $1 billion has been committed to existing families in the NICA program over the remainder of their children’s lives.
“As we recognize March as Brain Injury Awareness Month, I’m proud to support legislation this year to bolster care of infants born with birth-related neurological injuries. As a father of two myself, I know there’s nothing more important to a parent than ensuring your child has the proper care they need to live a long, healthy life,” said CFO Jimmy Patronis. “Thank you to Senator Danny Burgess and Representative Traci Koster for their hard work on this important legislation.”
Last year, NICA collected $27.8 million in assessments from doctors and hospitals to pay for the lifetime support and care of eligible children born in 2020. NICA projects to pay out $49.2 million over the lifetime of those eligible children, with investment income covering the difference between collected annual assessments and projected benefit payments.