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Am I Legally Responsible For A Loved One’s Nursing Home Bills?

Man looking at "debt collection" paper

Imagine getting a letter in the mail saying you owe tens of thousands for a relative’s unpaid nursing home expenses, plus late fees. Then, when you call the nursing home to straighten things out, they drop a bomb: When you signed that phone-book-sized admissions agreement to help get your loved one into the facility, it included a part where you agreed to be financially responsible for your loved one’s services. You might think you’re financially on the hook, but it’s a scam.

Federal law states: “With respect to admissions practices, a skilled nursing facility must … not require a third-party guarantee of payment to the facility as a condition of admission (or expedited admission) to, or continued stay in, the facility.” Many nursing homes are ignoring this law and using invalid terms in their agreements that do require the financial responsibility of a “third party” (e.g., friends and family members). These terms are not legally binding, even if you signed it. However, if they sue you for payment, and you simply ignore it, you can lose by default and end up owing an enormous sum of unpaid nursing home bills.

When residents or insurers are late in payment, some shady nursing homes are bombarding friends and family members with bills, collections agencies, and even lawsuits. Of course, the nursing homes are counting on them to sign agreements they don’t understand and pay loved one’s bills without understanding whether they have an obligation to do so. The victims of this illegal billing practice worry that they must pay or face the consequences of financial ruin and a vulnerable loved one being tossed out on the street.

A Look at Nursing Home Billing Abuse in One U.S. County

An investigation by KHN-NPR of nursing homes in Monroe County in New York found “24 federally licensed nursing homes filed 238 debt collection cases from 2018 to 2021 seeking almost $7.6 million… Nearly two-thirds of the cases targeted a friend or relative.”

The amounts they sought from defendants in these lawsuits averaged in the tens of thousands of dollars, with some above $100,000. The investigation found that many of these friends and family members were accused, without any proof, of hiding the residents’ financial assets. In a third of these cases, the nursing homes won their lawsuits by default, because the third-party defendants never responded.

Fighting Back

In Washington, D.C., the Office of the Attorney General forced two nursing homes to stop these “deceptive billing practices.” They forced Washington Center for Aging Services and Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home to fix their admission agreements and collection practices and repay some of the family and friends who sent money they were not obligated to pay.

What to Do If You Get a Bill for a Relative’s Nursing Home Bills

Many nursing home residents pay for nursing home care through Medicaid. If the loved one is eligible and using Medicaid for long-term care, then the government is responsible for payment and any billing from the nursing home is irrelevant. Even so, if you do get a bill, a letter from a collection agency, or notification of a lawsuit in which you are named as a defendant, don’t ignore it and don’t delay. If you cannot hire an attorney, you can use the following options:

If you need the advice of an attorney in Maryland or Washington D.C. for a matter related to nursing home abuse or neglect, contact Brown & Barron. Our award-wining attorneys have specialized expertise to get to the truth and recover a fair financial settlement that will enable your family to move forward and achieve justice. For a free consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.

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