A Maryland state-created task force is once again calling for the creation of a no-fault birth injury fund that would help fund costs of care for babies who suffered neurological injuries during birth. The new bill would create a fund that provides monetary compensation for families whose infants suffered birth injuries, allowing the families to skip litigation and malpractice suits.
This is the second time the creation of the fund is being pursued; a task force in 2014 recommended the creation of the fund, but efforts were unsuccessful. The latest task force brought the same recommendations before the 2016 General Assembly.
Again, the bill was met with mixed reactions.
Those who support the bill claim it would keep families from expensive, lengthy legal battles, and would protect health care facilities from going under due to malpractice legal fees. In the last five years, Maryland hospitals have paid over one hundred million dollars in damages to malpractice victims.
Those against the bill claim that it would allow negligent doctors to escape legal responsibility, and would take away the victim's constitutional right to trial by jury that would both hold health care professionals accountable and would decide what amount of compensation is necessary.
Opponents also argue that the 25 million dollar fund will not be enough to compensate families for the hundreds of birth injuries that occur each year in the state, some of which are neurological injuries that will qualify for the fund. Lifetime medical costs for a child with cerebral palsy (a common neurological birth injury) can be close to 2 million dollars, costs for home and life modifications—like special education and ramps in home—are an additional 1 million dollars, and an estimated 9.2 million dollars accounts for loss of work and early mortality.
Under the proposed bill, parents of children who suffered birth injuries would have to work out compensation amounts with the administrators of the fund, people who do not want to deplete the fund's entire account on one or two cases no matter how severe, leaving families with less compensation. While creators of the bill claim that it would help families by eliminating long legal cases, families will still need to contend with the fund's administrators and could ultimately face increased financial hardships with their injured children.
Florida and Virginia already have similar funds created in their states, and the new Maryland fund is modeled after the ones in these states. Hospitals and insurers pay for both funds, and proponents of the Maryland bill claim that it will have the same financial structure. Opponents of the Maryland fund say that the cost will largely be passed on to taxpayers. The task force could not reach agreement on how the bill would be funded or about whether hospitals would be required to provide the funding.
The first time the bill was recommended, the task force was made up entirely of health care professionals. The newer task force included both legal and insurance representatives, though neither group joined in recommending the bill.
Policy makers will continue to discuss the details in the coming months and decide the fund's fate.