Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on a measure increasing compensation for families whose infants suffer injuries during birth.
The bill (SB 1786) targets the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA), which helps care for infants born with brain or spinal-cord injuries.
The reform package boosts the initial payment to parents or legal guardians of children accepted into the NICA program from $100,000 to $250,000. That total will then increase by 3% each year on Jan. 1.
The death benefit payout for infants with neurological injuries also increases under the bill from $10,000 to $50,000.
“The NICA program has been in need of reforms for quite some time now and this legislation is an important step in the right direction. On behalf of all of the NICA families who have struggled, this is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican.
An investigation by the Miami Herald profiled parents who have struggled to receive payments from the NICA program. However, NICA Executive Director Kenny Shipley told lawmakers this year that there’s “another side to this story than what you saw come out of the Miami Herald.”
That didn’t stop both the House and Senate from giving the measure their unanimous support on its final passage.
The Legislature was set to pass a version of the measure that didn’t apply the increased compensation retroactively. But after protests from Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, taken into consideration by bill sponsor and Republican Rep. Traci Koster, the Senate and Burgess agreed to make the provision retroactive, as it was in the original House bill.
“I’m proud of my colleagues in the legislature for stepping up for these families. As a mother of two, I know there is nothing more important than ensuring your child has the proper care they need to live a long healthy life,” Koster said.
The legislation also expands the Board of Directors to include one parent or legal guardian of a plan participant and one representative of a disability advocacy organization.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was a proponent of the measure.
“This law represents a major paradigm shift, as of now NICA must be fully engaged in the overall wellbeing of these families and children,” he said. “Overall, these families are going to get more relief and it is our job to ensure the board is holding NICA accountable and seeing these reforms are implemented. Now we have got a board we are looking to fill and we have already begun the process of asking for recommendations from the organizations outlined in the bill.”
Lawmakers created NICA in 1988 as a no-fault system to pay for the care of children so long as the physicians participate in NICA and pay yearly assessments. Participating physicians are required to pay $5,000 each year for coverage, and all licensed Florida physicians pay a mandatory fee of $250, regardless of specialty.
Hospitals pay $50 for each live birth during the previous calendar year. In 2019, NICA collected $26,989,960 in hospital and physician assessments; in 2020, NICA collected $27 million, according to a legislative staff analysis.