What do you do when someone doesn’t pay their bill? Well, you can send them to collections. Or, you can get REALLY creative. That’s what nursing homes are starting to do. It’s been reported that family, friends, and even neighbors of nursing home residents have received bills, even if they have no financial ties to that person. And when those bills aren’t paid, the lawsuits begin.
Is this even legal?
First, let’s see what’s really going on.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) has recently been reviewing court records. It shows that nursing homes have resorted to suing beyond the residents themselves. The practice tries getting children, grandchildren, and even neighbors to pay the debts.
Remember, most people being sued have no financial ties to the nursing home residents. They are also not legally responsible for the debts.
As WEKU News out of Lexington, Kentucky reported, “The lawsuits illuminate a dark corner of America’s larger medical debt crisis.” Over the past five years, more than half of the adults in the U.S. have been impacted by this crisis in one way or another.
A poll conducted by KFF also shows that approximately one in seven adults with healthcare debt have been threatened with either a lawsuit or arrest. Only five percent say that they have actually been sued.
The strategy being employed by nursing homes is dangerous. There’s a federal law that protects people from debt collection when they are not the patient. Lisa Neeley, an elder law attorney in Massachusetts explains, “The level of aggression that nursing homes are using to collect unpaid debt is severely increasing.”
In Monroe County, New York, 24 federally licensed nursing homes were responsible for filing over 200 debt collection cases totaling close to $7.6 million between the years 2018 and 2021. What’s even more alarming is that two-thirds of the cases targeted either a relative or friend.
The nursing homes went as far as accusing the relatives or friends of hiding residents’ assets – and did so without any kind of documentation to support their accusations.
Are the nursing homes doing something illegal? Well, it’s sort of a black hole.
As consumer attorney Eric Carlson explains, it’s often based on the admissions agreements. Family or friends will often sign the piles of paperwork without knowing what the financial risks are. “The world of nursing facilities is a black hole for most people.”
What’s worse is that many of the nursing homes are winning default judgments because people never respond. And in some instances, lawsuits are seeking out interest rates of 18% on top of the debt.
It all comes down to deceptive billing practices – and there are laws that prevent this sort of thing from happening.
Unfortunately, it is possible for the nursing homes to file lawsuits – and they win too many times because people get scared and pay. Or, they don’t have the money to hire a lawyer so that they can clear their names.
Lucille Brooks of Rochester, New York learned a hard lesson after being sued for a bill of $8,000 that belonged to her brother, a long-term resident at a nursing home. She has advice for everyone: don’t sign anything. “It’s ridiculous. But why would you ever think they would be coming after you?”
It’s a terrifying concept, really. And it doesn’t seem like the federal government is doing enough to put an end to such a shady practice.
We’re living in Biden’s America. We have to cover our own behinds because Biden’s not interested in doing it for us. Remember, Americans don’t come first anymore.