A recent story in NPR told of nursing homes who are aggressively suing family members and friends for nursing home resident debt.
In most cases, it’s impossible to sue someone a debt unless they have a financial tie to you: that is, unless you have co-signed for the debt, or unless you are the spouse of the debtor.
Nursing homes are using admissions agreements, contracts that nursing homes often pressure family members and friends into signing before they’ll admit the patient.
The nursing homes then use those agreements to launch lawsuits, or to pressure the signees into paying with threats of lawsuits or even criminal action. Some nursing homes accuse these individuals of stealing or hiding resident assets—even if they didn’t have the power of attorney to access the resident’s assets in the first place.
Federal law does prohibit these homes from requiring family members or friends to financially guarantee the resident’s bills. They’re not supposed to make the request.
So, instead, they just slip the language right into the fine print.
And, in fact, if the language in the admissions agreement is specific enough, then you can indeed find yourself on the hook for the debt. The language often looks like this: “By entering into this agreement, the patient, the patient’s spouse, and/or the patient’s responsible party and undersigned agent(s) understand and agree to the patient’s payment obligations. The patient agrees to pay for, or arrange to have paid by Medicaid, Medicare, or other third party insurers or payers, all services provided hereunder and agrees to pay any required third party deductibles, co-insurance, or monthly income budgeted by the Medicaid program (called the “NAMI” amount). The undersigned accepts the duty to insure continuity of payment.”
If you plan to help a family member or friend gain admission to a nursing home, be aware of this practice, be on the lookout for it, and don’t take a staff members word on it if they say you’re not taking financial responsibility for the patience.
So, what should you do if you’re being sued?
First, don’t panic. Meet with us: we can evaluate the paperwork to see if the nursing home even has a claim. In many cases it will be possible to show they don’t have a claim and there’s no evidence, causing them to drop the case or causing judges to throw them out.
If you did inadvertently sign an agreement which put you on the hook for thousands of dollars, you can still file for bankruptcy. Nursing home debts are just like any other medical debt: they’re dischargeable.
In many cases we can help you protect all of your assets while you fight fire with fire by using the court system to get the nursing homes off of your back. Best of all, once you file, they cannot sue you and they cannot talk to you.
If you’re facing this problem here in Newark, contact our office today.