March 4, 2009

Congress Must Pass Bill to Protect Families From Unscrupulous Nursing Home Contracts

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division*

Choosing a nursing home or assisted living facility for a loved one is one of the most important and difficult decisions that a family faces. It requires weighing a complicated set of factors such as quality of care, cost and location. Few people faced with this decision pore over the fine print of admissions contracts or worry about whether they are sacrificing important legal rights – and they shouldn’t have to.

The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, sponsored in the House by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and in the Senate by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), would help ensure that they don’t. This bill would eliminate one of the worst provisions hidden in the fine print of most nursing home contracts – “pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration” clauses. These provisions strip residents and their families of the right to hold nursing homes accountable in court, requiring them instead to bring disputes to a private, expensive, secretive forum chosen by nursing homes.

Nursing homes are supposed to provide care for our most vulnerable loved ones, but they are falling down on the job. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 90 percent of nursing homes were fined in 2007 for violating federal health and safety standards. An industry performing so poorly needs more accountability, not less.

The ability to hold a nursing home accountable in court is a critical safeguard against abuse and neglect. Nursing homes shouldn’t be able to take away their residents’ legal rights as a condition of providing service.

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* Congress Watch is a department of Public Citizen. It is not a stand-alone organization. If you do not have space to include Mr. Arkush’s entire title, please refer to him as David Arkush of Public Citizen.

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