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U.S. government agency bars nursing homes from requiring arbitration

By Jessica Surber, attorney

When you or a loved one enter a nursing home, you are asked to sign paperwork, in order to be admitted. Most of the forms you fill out provide much-needed medical information and cover things such as payment arrangements.

Usually, you’ll also find an agreement that specifies what happens if you or your loved one is injured or dies in the care of the facility, and you believe the facility is at fault. The agreement indicates that should you have a dispute with the care facility, you and the nursing home will go to binding arbitration, rather than court, to settle your differences or to seek compensation if the nursing home patient was injured or died.

No more arbitration

nursing homeJust this week, the U.S. government agency that controls payments to nursing homes from Medicaid and Medicare announced that any nursing home that receives funding from the U.S. government cannot require patients and their families to sign these clauses requiring binding arbitration prior to a dispute arising. This is a major change, as this agency controls nearly $1 trillion in Medicare and Medicaid payments, and nearly every nursing home receives some kind of payment from the government.

The rule change was announced Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The rule change is part of a larger package of changes first proposed in July 2015.

Courts have routinely upheld arbitration clauses as binding legal agreements, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see how this rule change impacts those who have loved ones currently living in a nursing home or care facility who want to take a case to court and how this affects current cases. The rule change is very new, so we will continue to watch how courts rule on this.

All of this goes back to advice we offer on nearly every legal matter: If you’re asked to sign paperwork, read it and understand it, and if you don’t, seek an experienced attorney to review it with you. If you need an attorney to help you handle a nursing home matter, you may contact me, Jessica Surber, at (270) 781-6500 or jsurber@elpolaw.com.

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