Know your rights: Caregivers and nursing home debt
Helping someone you love to move into a nursing home can be stressful enough. Nursing homes should not try to make you personally responsible for a loved one’s bill as a condition of admission.
- Take a close look at the nursing home contract
- Defend your rights, talk with a lawyer
- Help is available
Take a close look at the nursing home contract
Here’s what you should know about your rights, what to look for in the nursing home admissions contract, and where to get help.
- Know your rights. Some nursing home admissions contracts say that a caregiver, family member, or friend must pay the resident’s bill if the resident can’t afford to. This is generally illegal. Under the federal Nursing Home Reform Act, nursing homes can’t ask or require you to use your own money to pay for someone else’s nursing home bill, as a condition of that person’s admission to or continued stay in the nursing home.
- The nursing home can’t make you promise to pay for the resident’s care with your own money. For instance, you may have access to the resident’s money as their power of attorney or legal guardian. But the nursing home can’t make you promise to pay for the resident’s care with your own money.
- Watch out for words such as “responsible party” and “joint and several liability.” Sometimes, contracts have confusing terms that say, on one hand, that you are not personally responsible for paying the resident’s costs of care. Then later, the contract could say that if you don’t make sure the resident’s Medicaid application is complete, accurate, and on time, you are responsible for paying the nursing home’s damages. Or it could say that you and the resident are both “jointly and severally” responsible for the nursing home bills.
- You can refuse to sign a nursing home admissions contract that tries to hold you personally responsible for the resident’s bills. If the nursing home insists that you sign the contract, you can ask a lawyer to read the admissions contract for violations of the Nursing Home Reform Act.
Defend your rights, talk with a lawyer
When nursing home bills go unpaid, some nursing homes hire debt collectors, including law firms, to demand that caregivers pay for a resident’s unpaid nursing home bills. They may also report the debt to consumer credit reporting companies as your debt, and file lawsuits in court. Debt collectors may even tell the judge that you intentionally misused, hid, or stole the resident’s funds, without any reason for believing that you did. These actions could violate the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you are sued for a loved one’s nursing home debt, contact an attorney immediately.
Help is available
When you’re dealing with a nursing home problem, you don’t have to go it alone. There are experts who can help. Some do this for free or at a low cost.
Find your local long-term care ombudsman
Get legal help
Lawyers can help you understand your rights, negotiate with a nursing home, and respond to debt collection demands. You may qualify for free legal aid, based on your income.
Report nursing homes
Submit a complaint
If you are having trouble with a debt collector or a credit reporting company, you can also submit a complaint with the CFPB.