Miami Herald journalists Carol Marbin Miller, Daniel Chang and Emily Michot received one of the most prestigious awards in journalism Tuesday for “Birth & Betrayal,” an investigation by the Herald and the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica into a Florida program that for years cheated families of children born with catastrophic brain injuries.
The three were honored by the RFK Human Rights organization with its 54th annual journalism award in the domestic print category — and after that the Grand Prize across all categories. Award winners receive a bust in the image of the late Robert Francis Kennedy.
Presenters in the virtual ceremony, emceed by historian Michael Beschloss, included broadcast journalists Soledad O’Brien and Craig Melvin and political commentator Van Jones. Kerry Kennedy, lawyer, activist and seventh child of Robert Kennedy, spoke about the increasing importance of journalism in today’s world.
“We all know that the first step for creating change is exposing injustice,” said Kennedy, who was a child when her father was assassinated while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. “And this year’s winners have done this across the board.”
Birth & Betrayal was a two-year-long examination of Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA), created in 1988 to provide for the healthcare and other needs of children born with catastrophic brain injuries, often resulting from oxygen deprivation at birth.
The program, primarily aimed at shielding OB-GYNS and hospitals from malpractice judgments, is supposed to assist families by helping them cope with the staggering costs of caring for a child with devastating injuries.
But instead the investigation found that NICA, fed with dues paid by doctors and hospitals, was refusing to fulfill basic requests for therapies, in-home nursing and transportation, forcing families to plead for assistance from Medicaid. NICA’s refusals to render assistance came despite accumulating roughly $1.7 billion in assets.
The fund was overseen by a board of healthcare and insurance representatives with little input and no representation from a NICA family or an advocate for children with disabilities.
The investigation led to an overhaul of NICA by the Florida Legislature, including naming of a new board and new executive director, and passage of revamped legislation. Along with those reforms, families enrolled in NICA received an immediate infusion of $150,000 to help meet their children’s needs.
Douglas Brinkley, acclaimed author, history commentator and Rice University professor, announced the print journalism award, noting that the Herald team showed that “NICA was and is a nightmare.”
After the Grand Prize was bestowed, presenter Margaret Engel, chairwoman of the RFK journalism committee, declared: “This extraordinary journalistic effort illuminated the type of misconduct and unfairness that Robert F. Kennedy was passionate about removing from American life.”
In April, Birth & Betrayal received the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication’s 2022 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, a national award.
Before that, “Birth & Betrayal” received the Long Island University’s George Polk Award for distinguished journalism. The series also received the National Headliner Award in the Public Service category.
In 2015, Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown was honored by the RFK Human Rights organization for her series of articles that looked at deadly abuse in Florida’s prison system.