New Rule Once Again Allows Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements

The Trump administration is officially rolling back a ban on the use of arbitration agreements by nursing homes that was initiated under President Obama. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a rule that once again allows nursing facilities to use arbitration to settle disputes with residents.

Historically, nursing homes increasingly asked — or forced — patients and their families to sign arbitration agreements prior to admission. By signing these agreements, patients or family members gave up their right to sue if they believed the nursing home was responsible for injuries or the patient’s death. The dispute had to be settled in private arbitration, and any injury to the patient did not have to be disclosed to the public.

In 2017, CMS issued a final rule prohibiting nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid from entering into binding arbitration agreements with a resident or their representative before a dispute arises. In doing so, CMS cited abundant evidence that resolving disputes behind closed doors was detrimental to the health and safety of nursing home residents.

The nursing home industry immediately challenged this rule in court and a U.S. district court issued an injunction prohibiting it from going into effect. The Trump administration then announced it was reviewing the rule.

The new rule, which takes effect on September 16, 2019, allows nursing homes to enter into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents, but prohibits nursing homes from requiring residents to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition for admission. The rule also adds a requirement that facilities give residents a 30-day period to rescind their agreement to arbitrate disputes. And it prohibits language in the arbitration agreement that prevents residents from contacting federal or state authorities.

Although under the new rule nursing homes will not be able to require residents to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of admission, nursing home resident advocacy groups contend that the effect will in many cases be the same as forcing residents to sign.

“[T]he circumstances surrounding the admissions process combined with the enormous disparity of bargaining power means that most prospective residents are unaware of the content of what they are signing or the significance of the decision to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement,” the group Justice in Aging said in a statement. “In short, allowing facilities to ask residents to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements is unfair to residents and their families and will harm their rights, safety, and quality of care.”

To read the rule, click here.

How to Fight a Nursing Home Discharge

Once a resident is settled in a nursing home, being told to leave can be very traumatic. Nursing homes are required to follow certain procedures before discharging a resident, but family members often accept the discharge without questioning it. Residents can fight back and challenge an unlawful discharge.

According to federal law, a nursing home can discharge a resident only for the following reasons:

  • The resident’s health has improved
  • The resident’s needs cannot be met by the facility
  • The health and safety of other residents is endangered
  • The resident has not paid after receiving notice
  • The facility stops operating

Unfortunately, sometimes nursing homes want to get rid of a resident for another reason–perhaps the resident is difficult, the resident’s family is difficult, or the resident is a Medicaid recipient. In such cases, the nursing home may not follow the proper procedure or it may attempt to “dump” the resident by transferring the resident to a hospital and then refusing to let the him or her back in.

If the nursing home transfers a resident to a hospital, state law may require that the nursing home hold the resident’s bed for a certain number of days (usually about a week). Before transferring a resident, the facility must inform the resident about its bed-hold policy. If the resident pays privately, he or she may have to pay to hold the bed, but if the resident receives Medicaid, Medicaid will pay for the bed hold. In addition, if the resident is a Medicaid recipient the nursing home has to readmit the resident to the first available bed if the bed-hold period has passed.

In addition, a nursing home cannot discharge a resident without proper notice and planning. In general, the nursing home must provide written notice 30 days before discharge, though shorter notice is allowed in emergency situations. Even if a patient is sent to a hospital, the nursing home may still have to do proper discharge planning if it plans on not readmitting the resident. A discharge plan must ensure the resident has a safe place to go, preferably near family, and outline the care the resident will receive after discharge.

If the nursing home refuses to readmit a patient or insists on discharging a resident, residents can appeal or file a complaint with the state long-term care ombudsman. The resident should appeal as soon as possible after receiving a discharge notice or after being refused readmittance to the nursing home. You can also require the resident’s doctor to sign off on the discharge. Contact your attorney to find out the best steps to take.

For more on protecting the rights of nursing home residents, see the guide 20 Common Nursing Home Problems–and How to Resolve Them by Justice in Aging.

What a Good Long-Term Care Insurance Policy Should Include

Nursing home and long-term care costs continue to rise and it is difficult to qualify for Medicaid to pay for nursing home costs. Long-term care insurance can help cover expenses, but long term care insurance contracts are notoriously confusing. How do you figure out what is right for you? The following are some tips to help you sort through all the different options.

Find a strong insurance company

The first step is to choose a solid insurance company. Because it is likely you won’t be using the policy for many years, you want to make sure the company will still be around when you need it. Make certain that the insurer is rated in the top two categories by one of the services that rates insurance companies, such as A.M. BestMoodysStandard & Poor’s, or Weiss.

What is covered

Policies may cover nursing home care, home health care, assisted living, hospice care, or adult day care, or some combination of these. The more comprehensive the policy, the better. A policy that covers multiple types of care will give you more flexibility in choosing the care that is right for you.

Waiting period

Most long-term care insurance policies have a waiting period before benefits begin to kick in. This waiting period can be between 0 and 90 days, or even longer. You will have to cover all expenses during the waiting period, so choose a time period that you think you can afford to cover. A longer waiting period can mean lower premiums, but you need to be careful if you are getting home care. Look for a policy that bases the waiting period on calendar days. For some insurance companies, the waiting period is not based on calendar days, but on days of reimbursable service, which can be very complicated. Some policies may have different waiting periods for home health care and nursing home care, and some companies waive the waiting period for home health care altogether.

Daily benefit

The daily benefit is the amount the insurance pays per day toward long-term care expenses. If your daily benefit doesn’t cover your expenses, you will have to cover any additional costs. Purchasing the maximum daily benefit will assure you have the most coverage available. If you want to lower your premiums, you may consider covering a portion of the care yourself. You can then insure for the maximum daily benefit minus the amount you are covering. The lower daily benefit will mean a lower premium.

It is important to determine how the daily benefit is calculated. It can be each day’s actual charges (called daily reimbursement) or the daily average, calculated each month (called monthly reimbursement). The latter is better for home health care because a home care worker might come for a full day, one day, and then only part of the day, the next day.

Benefit period

When you purchase a policy, you need to choose how long you want your coverage to last. In general, you do not need to purchase a lifetime policy three to five years’ worth of coverage should be enough. In fact a new study from the American Association of Long-term Care Insurance shows that a three-year benefit policy is sufficient for most people. According to the study of in-force long-term care policies, only 8 percent of people needed coverage for more than three years. So, unless you have a family history of a chronic illness, you aren’t likely to need more coverage. If you are buying insurance as part of a Medicaid planning strategy, however, you will need to purchase at least enough insurance to cover the five-year lookback period. That way you can transfer assets to your children or grandchildren before you enter the nursing home, use the long-term care coverage to wait out Medicaid’s new five-year look-back period, and after those five years have passed apply for Medicaid to pay your nursing home costs (provided the assets remaining in your name do not exceed Medicaid’s limits).

If you do have a history of a chronic disease in your family, you may want to purchase more coverage. Coverage for 10 years may be enough and would still be less expensive than purchasing a lifetime policy.

Inflation protection

As nursing home costs continue to rise, your daily benefit will cover less and less of your expenses. Most insurance policies offer inflation protection of 5 percent a year, which is designed to increase your daily benefit along with the long-term care inflation rate of 5.6 percent a year. Although inflation protection can significantly increase your premium, it is strongly recommended. There are two main types of inflation protection: compound interest increases or simple interest increases. If you are purchasing a long-term care policy and are younger than age 62 or 63, you will need to purchase compound inflation protection. This can, however, more than double your premium. If you purchase a policy after age 62 or 63, some experts believe that simple inflation increases should be enough, and you will save on premium costs.

Protecting Your House After You Move Into a Nursing Home

While you generally do not have to sell your home in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, it is possible the state can file a claim against your house after you die, so you may want to take steps to protect your house.

If you get help from Medicaid to pay for the nursing home, the state must attempt to recoup from your estate whatever benefits it paid for your care. This is called “estate recovery,” and given the rules for Medicaid eligibility, the only property of substantial value that a Medicaid recipient is likely to own at death is his or her home. If possible, you should consult with your attorney before entering a nursing home, or as soon as possible afterwards, in order to discuss ways to protect your home.

The home is not counted as an asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes if the equity is less than $585,000 (in 2019) ($878,000 in some states). In all states, you may keep your house with no equity limit if your spouse or another dependent relative lives there.

Transferring a Home
In most states, transferring your house to your children (or someone else) may lead to a Medicaid penalty period, which would make you ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time. There are circumstances in which it is legal to transfer a house, however, so consult an attorney before making any transfers. You may freely transfer your home to the following individuals without incurring a transfer penalty:

  • Your spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
  • A “caretaker child,” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

While you can sell your house for fair market value, it may make you ineligible for Medicaid and you may have to apply the proceeds of the sale to your nursing home bills.

Lien on Home
Except in certain circumstances, Medicaid may put a lien on your house for the amount of money spent on your care. If the property is sold while you are still living, you would have to satisfy the lien by paying back the state. The exceptions to this rule are cases where a spouse, a disabled or blind child, a child under age 21, or a sibling with an equity interest in the house is living there.

Estate Recovery
If your spouse, a disabled or blind child, a child under age 21, or a sibling with an equity interest in the house, lives in the house, the state cannot file a claim against the house for reimbursement of Medicaid nursing home expenses. However, once your spouse or dependent relative dies or moves out, the state can try to collect.

But there are some circumstances under which the value of a house can be protected from Medicaid recovery. The state cannot recover if you and your spouse owned the home as tenants by the entireties or if the house is in your spouse’s name and you have relinquished your interest. If the house is in an irrevocable trust, the state cannot recover from it.

In addition, some children or relatives may be able to protect a nursing home resident’s house if they qualify for an undue hardship waiver. For example, if your daughter took care of you before you entered the nursing home and has no other permanent residence, she may be able to avoid a claim against your house after you die. Consult with an attorney to find out if the undue hardship waiver may be applicable.

Report Ranks States on Nursing Home Quality and Shows Families’ Conflicted Views

A new report that combines nursing home quality data with a survey of family members ranks the best and worst states for care and paints a picture of how Americans view nursing homes.

The website Care.com analyzed Medicare’s nursing home ratings to identify the states with the best and worst overall nursing home quality ratings. Using Medicare’s five-star nursing home rating system, Care.com found that Hawaii nursing homes had the highest overall average ratings (3.93), followed by the District of Columbia (3.89), Florida (3.75), and New Jersey (3.75).  The state with the lowest average rating was Texas (2.68), followed by Oklahoma (2.76), Louisiana (2.80), and Kentucky (2.98).

Care.com also surveyed 978 people who have family members in a nursing home to determine their impressions about nursing homes. The surveyors found that the family members visited their loved ones in a nursing home an average six times a month, and more than half of those surveyed felt that they did not visit enough. Those who thought they visited enough visited an average of nine times a month. In addition, a little over half felt somewhat to extremely guilty about their loved one being in a nursing home, while slightly less than one-quarter (23 percent) did not feel guilty at all. If the tables were turned, nearly half of the respondents said they would not want their families to send them to a nursing home.

While the survey indicates that the decision to admit a loved one to a nursing home was difficult, a majority (71.3 percent) of respondents felt satisfied with the care their loved ones were receiving. Only 18.1 percent said they were dissatisfied and about 10 percent were neutral. A little over half said that they would like to provide care at home if they could. The most common special request made on behalf of a loved one in a nursing home is for special food. Other common requests include extra attention and environmental accommodations (e.g., room temperature).

To read the full results of the survey, click here.

Understanding Medicare’s Hospice Benefit

Medicare’s hospice benefit covers any care that is reasonable and necessary for easing the course of a terminal illness. It is one of Medicare’s most comprehensive benefits and can be extremely helpful to both the terminally ill individual and his or her family, but it is little understood and underutilized. Understanding what is offered ahead of time may help Medicare beneficiaries and their families make the difficult decision to choose hospice if the time comes.

The focus of hospice is palliative care, which means helping people who are terminally ill and their families maintain their quality of life. Palliative care addresses physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs while also supporting the terminally ill individual’s independence, access to information, and ability to make choices about health care.

To qualify for Medicare’s hospice benefit, a beneficiary must be entitled to Medicare Part A, and a doctor must certify that the beneficiary has a life expectancy of six months or less. If the beneficiary lives longer than six months, the doctor can continue to certify the patient for hospice care indefinitely. The beneficiary must also agree to give up any treatment to cure his or her illness and elect to receive only palliative care. This can seem overwhelming, but beneficiaries can also change their minds at any time. It’s possible to revoke the benefit and reelect it later, and to do this as often as needed.

Medicare will cover any care that is reasonable and necessary for easing the course of a terminal illness. Hospice nurses and doctors are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to give beneficiaries support and care when needed. Services are usually provided in the home. The Medicare hospice benefit provides for:

  • Physician and nurse practitioner services
  • Nursing care
  • Medical appliances and supplies
  • Drugs for symptom management and pain relief
  • Short-term inpatient and respite care
  • Homemaker and home health aide services
  • Counseling
  • Social work service
  • Spiritual care
  • Volunteer participation
  • Bereavement services

Services are considered appropriate if they are aimed at improving the beneficiary’s life and making him or her more comfortable.

Because the beneficiary is electing palliative care over treatment, there are things the hospice benefit will not cover:

  • Treatment to cure the beneficiary’s illness.
  • Prescription drugs other than for symptom control or pain relief.
  • Care from a provider that wasn’t set up by the hospice team, although the beneficiary can choose to have his or her regular doctor be the attending medical professional.
  • Room and board. If the beneficiary is in a nursing home, hospice will not pay for room and board costs. However, if the hospice team determines that the beneficiary needs short-term inpatient care or respite care services, Medicare will cover a stay in a facility.
  • Care from a hospital, either inpatient or outpatient, or ambulance transportation unless it arranged by the hospice team. The beneficiary can use regular Medicare to pay for any treatment not related to the beneficiary’s terminal illness.

To download Medicare’s booklet on the hospice benefit, click here.

Can You Put a Surveillance Camera in a Nursing Home Room?

Technological advances have made it easier to stay connected with loved ones all the time. This has included the ability to install cameras in a loved one’s nursing home room. These so-called “granny cams” have legal and privacy implications.

The benefit of putting a surveillance camera in a nursing home is the ability to monitor your family member’s care. Families that suspect abuse or neglect can keep on eye caregivers. Being able to observe care from afar can give family members peace of mind that their loved one is being well taken care of. It can also serve as evidence if abuse is found. Even if there is no abuse, cameras can be helpful to observe if caregivers are using improper techniques that may injure a resident.

On the other hand, cameras raise privacy concerns for both residents (including roommates) and caregivers. Residents may not want to be monitored while they are in a vulnerable state, such as changing or bathing. If the recording device picks up audio, then even the resident’s conversations may no longer be private.

All this aside, do nursing homes have to permit families to install cameras? This varies depending on the facility. Some nursing homes may have language in their admission contracts banning cameras or imposing specific requirements for their use. However, concerns over elder abuse have led some states to pass laws allowing cameras in nursing homes. At least six states — Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington — have passed laws permitting families to install a camera in a nursing home if the resident and the resident’s roommate have agreed. Utah permits cameras in assisted living facilities. New Jersey does not have a law specifically permitting cameras, but it has a program that loans surveillance cameras to families who suspect abuse. In other states, the law surrounding camera use is more vague.

If you are considering installing a camera in a loved one’s nursing home room, you should contact your attorney to discuss the legal and practical implications.

For a fact sheet about nursing home surveillance from The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, click here. And keep in mind the Consumer Voice’s advice that cameras are “no substitute for personal involvement and monitoring.”

What Happens When a Nursing Home Closes?

A nursing home closure can be traumatic for residents who are forced to move. While there may not be much that can be done to prevent a closure, residents do have some rights.

Moving into a nursing home can be a stressful experience on its own. If that nursing home closes, residents can experience symptoms that include depression, agitation, and withdrawn behavior, according to The Consumer Voice, a long-term care consumer advocacy group. Nursing homes may close voluntarily because the owners decide to close up shop or involuntarily if the state or federal government shutters the facility for care or safety issues.

When a nursing home is closing, it must provide notice to the state and any residents at least 60 days before the closure. The notice must include the following: Continue reading