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From the Pages of the Orlando Weekly: Parents Are Often Denied Financial Aid When A Birth Goes Wrong-That Should Change

Photo: Peter Oslanec
Photo: Peter Oslanec

When a birth goes wrong in Florida, resulting in “substantial” brain damage, Florida families can’t sue their doctor or hospital.

Instead, as part of a law designed to lower malpractice insurance premiums, they’re enrolled in something called the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, which offers parents a one-time $100,000 payment and the promise of continuing health care for their disabled child.

But an investigation by ProPublica and the Miami Herald finds that NICA often denies aid to families, while it has accumulated nearly $1.5 billion in assets. In the last budget year, NICA earned six times as much in investment income as it disbursed to families of brain-damaged children.

In its 32 years, NICA has paid lawyers almost double what they paid in medical benefits, sometimes spending tens of thousands more on legal fees to fight requests for aid than it would cost to provide them.

Just hours after the findings were published, the state launched an audit of NICA’s books and proposed reform legislation.

It’s said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” It shouldn’t require a journalist’s intervention for families to get the help they’re entitled to. But when the system breaks down, sometimes the press spotlight is the only tool that works.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.