Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book is proposing further reforms to the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) after the organization came under fire for failing to adequately compensate families whose infants were injured.
Lawmakers approved a reform bill during the 2021 Legislative Session following an explosive report from the Miami Herald and ProPublica. That investigation showed families often were denied payment or had to jump through hurdles to receive a payment.
Last Session’s bill significantly upped the payments for families whose infants are born with brain or spinal-cord injuries. Book’s legislation (SB 1050) would further increase that compensation.
Current law offers housing assistance up to $100,000 for the injured child’s life, “including home construction and modification costs,” which may be necessary to care for the child. Book’s bill would add another $30,000 to that pot “to cover costs for devices that will ensure continuous light, heat, and power in the home for the care of the child, including, but not limited to, a generator or another alternative power source.”
Out-of-pocket expenses paid by the parents would also be eligible for reimbursement.
In addition, if a family member is caring for the injured infant, those family members must also be compensated “at the same rate the plan pays for such services when provided by a contracted provider.” Those payments would not be subject to hourly caps, so long as the family member is providing medically necessary care.
Parents could also be compensated for necessary dental care and therapeutic services, neither of which are currently considered in determining NICA payouts. Families would also be able to receive payments up to $10,000 for legal costs in setting up a guardianship for the child.
Book’s proposed changes, like those found in last year’s bill, would also apply retroactively.
Book’s bill also amends current state law to ensure NICA does not function as a “payor of last resort.” A payor of last resort typically only provides funding when all other sources have been exhausted.
So far, no House lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors to Book’s bill.
The fallout from the NICA controversy led its head, Kenney Shipley, to resign in September, effective Jan. 4. Shipley had helmed NICA for nearly two decades.
Earlier this month, NICA’s Interim Chair of the Board of Directors, Jim DeBeaugrine, and interim Executive Director Melissa Jaacks, promised a better-functioning NICA going forward.
“All of these reports are painting kind of a common theme, that there’s a lot of improvement that can be made just largely in terms of internal processes and how we conduct business,” DeBeaugrine said. “We’re going to get there. It’s not terribly complicated, but it’s tedious, it’s a lot of work and it requires a concentrated effort over a period of time.”
Jaacks added NICA needs to do a better job responding to families’ requests.
“They are living their lives. We are not living their lives,” she said. “They know what is best, they know what is going to make their lives easier and they know what their child needs, and as long as we listen, it makes our job much, much easier.”