Whether you have a loved one in a nursing home or are a care coordinator, professional representative, or other health care provider, it’s important to advocate for our most vulnerable adults.
Many families are shocked by the cost of nursing home care and bills can skyrocket quickly. The billing statements are often complicated and confusing. You might also wonder if you have to pay that bill should your loved one be unable to.
It’s critical for anyone working closely with nursing home residents to understand who is responsible for the costs and how to spot and report illegal nursing home collection practices.
Illegal Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices and Contract Terms
The Nursing Home Reform Act is a federal policy that applies to any nursing home that participates with Medicare and Medicaid. It says that nursing facilities are prohibited from requiring a third party, like a family member or caregiver, to guarantee payment as a condition of a person’s admission or continued stay in a facility.
Despite this protection, some care facilities use illegal methods to pressure or intimidate families into paying when a resident can’t or owes a debt.
Caregivers are often asked to sign an admission contract, among many documents, when a loved one goes into a care facility. This is during a time when caregivers and families are already overwhelmed. Admission contracts are often long and difficult to read. Most caregivers aren’t given a chance to review or ask questions about the contract. And most don’t understand the legal consequences of signing such a document.
Some dishonest nursing homes attempt to hide clauses in the contract that personally guarantee payment by the family member, caregiver, or friend, making them seemingly responsible for their loved one’s care costs if the nursing home resident cannot afford to pay for it themselves. Even though these clauses are not enforceable, uninformed caregivers are often pressured into paying on behalf of their loved ones.
Nursing Home Admission Red Flags to Look Out For
While many nursing home facilities offer compassion and understanding during the admissions process, not all follow the law. This leaves caregivers vulnerable and at risk. There is often an overwhelming amount of paperwork and tasks to complete.
Even so, caregivers should take their time to understand the process and be an advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Use resources available from Medicare to research nursing facilities and learn about nursing home resident rights.
Finally, it’s imperative to review all documents and contracts upon admission. When reviewing a contract, look for words and phrases like “personally liable”, “joint and severally liable,” and “responsible party”.
Any clause that attempts to hold a third party, like a caregiver or the family of care home residents, responsible for their cost of care is an immediate red flag. Third parties are not required to take responsibility for payment or a resident’s debt, and these clauses violate federal law. Even if a person is acting as a power of attorney or has the legal authority to access a loved one’s property or money, a nursing home can not request or require personal financial liability for the care of their loved one.
Prohibited Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices
When a nursing home bill is unpaid or a resident leaves owing a debt, unethical facilities sometimes demand payment from caregivers or family members. They will point to clauses hidden in the admission contracts despite federal law prohibiting the practice.
Especially deceptive facilities pressure families with threats to evict residents or even accuse caregivers of mismanaging or taking the resident’s assets in an attempt to intimidate them into paying for fear of a lawsuit.
Facilities with these unenforceable illegal contracts often turn to debt collection agencies. Debt collectors then pursue unsuspecting families despite being in violation of the Nursing Home Reform Act. The debt collectors demand payment from the person who signed the admissions contract. Unscrupulous debt collectors threaten to report the person to consumer credit reporting companies or file a lawsuit. The fear of dealing with the negative financial impact of these collections is often enough to intimidate families and caregivers into paying the debt.
What To Do if You Suspect Illegal Activity
If you are asked to sign an admission contract or other document requiring you to guarantee payment, refuse to do so. A third party is not required to sign for admission.
Further, if you see language in an admission document prohibited by the Nursing Home Reform Act, even if you didn’t sign it, report it immediately. Share the information and the violation with your State Nursing Home Survey Agency and file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General. Every state also has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman who can investigate and advocate for nursing home residents.
If you have been contacted by a debt collector demanding payment to a nursing home, you are protected by consumer financial protection laws. Since the NHRA prohibits nursing homes from obligating third parties, debt collectors who attempt to recover payment from third parties violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Should they threaten or report the debt to a credit reporting agency, they also violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Complaints can be filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau online or by calling 1-855-411-CFPB (2372).
We Can Protect You and Your Loved One
By knowing your rights, you can protect yourself and your loved ones. An experienced South Florida Elder Law Attorney team like Friedman Elder Law Department can help your loved one get the care they need without losing their entire life savings.
Contact us today to learn how more about how we can help you or a loved one plan for your future needs.