Wednesday, September 17, 2014
(Thanks to Judy Stein, Executive Director for the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) for sharing this).
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Following several months of investigation of complaints from older adults and their family members, in 2004 the Pennsylvania Attorney General announced a civil suit against an array of companies and individuals, including several attorneys, alleging their participation in a scheme to defraud through sales of unnecessary revocable living trusts and unsuitable annuities and insurance products. The alleged target was "senior citizens age 65 and older."
Ten years later, one of the Pennsylvania attorneys named in that original investigation, Brett B. Weinstein, has been disbarred. This particular disciplinary action has been a lo-o-o-o-ng-time coming.
Beginning as early as 2000, the Pennsylvania disciplinary board received complaints about Weinstein's role in the sales by non-lawyer third-parties of so-called "living trusts," often packaged with high-priced annuities. Weinstein himself rarely met with the clients, and provided little in the way of legal advice or counseling. He was formally cautioned about his use of unsupervised non-lawyers to provide legal advice and in 2001 he entered into a written Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.
The conduct, however, apparently did not stop. An undercover investigator was used to document continued problems. In recommending disbarrment, the Disciplinary Office concluded that from 2002 to 2012, acting on his own and in concert with others, Weinstein "assisted sales and delivery agents for a series of estate planning companies in the un-authorized practice of law." Further, he engaged in "false and misleading conduct, failed to consult with his clients concerning their objectives and placed his own interests above his responsibilities to his clients."
In discussing the case against Weinstein and rejecting his attempts to justify his conduct, the Disciplinary opinion points to a long-history of concerns about attorneys involved with living trust "mills" in other states (including Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio), where the products are pushed on older persons with little or no analysis of the clients' real legal needs and specific financial circumstances. Read here for the complete Disciplinary findings and the PA Supreme Court Order dated July 28, 2014.
September 16, 2014 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Put me in coach---a phrase often associated with a competitive sport of some sort. We think about coaches for teams, but we need to broaden our perspective, to think about coaches in a much broader aspect: life coaches, marriage coaches, business coaches, study coaches, and now... retirement coaches. The NY Times ran an article, Finding an Identity Beyond the Workplace: There's More to Retirement Than Financial Planning. We have heard stories before of people whose identities are so intertwined with working, that they are lost when they retire. Coaches can help those folks, and others, in finding goals for their post-work time.
This entry in the non-sport coaching field, retirement coaching, can help with goals and motivation, according to the article. "Retirement coaches ... are popular these days. The cadre has emerged in the crowded coaching field to cater to a growing number of boomers who are grappling with what’s next." According to one expert quoted in the article, part of this need for assistance is longevity--with the years post-working stretching out longer in the future, people are looking for help in defining what to do in those years.
Here's how one retirement coach describes what they do "[w]hen someone retires, they tend to be literally levitating with excess productivity that can’t be channeled ... We help them slowly build a basket of activities."
So what's in the basket? It could be a veritable potpourri of activities, such as "part-time work, humanitarian endeavors, entrepreneurial adventures and artistic pursuits, [as well as] ... a search for legacy and significance ...." A significant number of clients of one coach are described by the coach as "hav[ing] some kind of ‘give back’ gene. They want to get involved with a charitable board, or find ways to be a teacher or tutor.”
There are plays to be run in retirement coaching, just like in sports. It takes time for the recently retired to learn those plays and to be prepared for the "game." This means the first play run will be "a self-assessment that examines values and strengths and clarifies goals, hopes and dreams for the future." The playbook involves running numbers, too, using "retirement calculators to be sure they won’t outlive their savings." But although a football coach can use a stop watch to see how fast a player can run the 100, it's more intangible with retirement coaching. "[I]t’s far harder to compute in advance how to best navigate the intangibles like building a new social network and finding value in how you spend your time in retirement."
How long do you need your coach? It simply depends. Cost does as well. There isn't quite as much regulation for these types of coaches as there are in sports, but there still are at least two organizations, according to the article. So why use a coach? One of the coaches is quoted: “This is a fresh track adventure ....Be patient. For the first time in your life, you need to be able to deal with white space. People get addicted to busyness. White space is the source of creativity and strategic thinking, so don’t fill up your dance card too fast.”
Since all of us are "in the game" of life and aging, we all need to think about our retirement readiness. Now we can have our own coach for that, and maybe there will be an app as well. (Please note my sports analogies are an attempt, feeble as it may be, to have a bit of fun in writing this post. Any sports analogy errors are definitely my own).
Monday, September 8, 2014
We all know how prevalent financial scams are, and that they are becoming more and more sophisticated. One of my colleagues, and dear friend, forwarded an email to me purportedly from his financial institution-and the email had the correct last 4 #s of his credit card! He promptly contacted the financial institution because it looked so authentic, only to find out it was a scam. The institution insisted there was no data breach. He promptly closed that account. I'm sure you have had similar experiences, or know someone who has (every semester I ask my students whether any of them have been victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, there is always at least one).
Governing ran a story a couple of weeks ago about state efforts to combat financial scams that target elders. The article, States Fight Financial Scams Aimed at Seniors, quotes Mary Twomey of the National Center on Elder Abuse, that the advancement in fighting scams is happening at the state level. For example, the article indicates that in 2014 "lawmakers in at least 28 states and the District of Columbia introduced legislation addressing the issue. Some measures focus on enhancing criminal penalties. Others target caregivers who exploit elderly charges. Some require financial institutions to report suspected exploitation."
We all know the dearth of statistics makes it a challenge to really understand the magnitude of the problem. The article quotes some studies with statistics, including a recent one from the Journal of General Internal Medicine "that found that one in 20 older adults in New York state reported that they had been financially exploited, usually by a family member, but sometimes by a friend or home-care aide."
The article also reviews some of the innovations in certain states, such as Colorado which requires training of law enforcement to recognize exploitation and abuse, with each department required to have a minimum of 1 trained officer by 01/01/2015; and North Carolina, which allows "courts ... to freeze the assets of a defendant charged with financial exploitation of a senior or disabled adult, if the victim has lost more than $5,000."
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
We get calls of all types, on our cell phones and for those of us who still have them, our land lines. Imagine a phone call offering you counseling on end of life options. Sound far-fetched? Not so much for some. Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran a story in late August, Operator? Business, Insurer Take On End-of-Life Issues By Phone. The article describes a company "Vital Decisions... [where] [a]fter sending a letter (people rarely respond) counselors essentially cold-call to offer what they describe as “nondirected” end-of-life counseling" to those who are quite ill. The company uses social workers to make the calls, which are short (about 15 minutes). Here's what the program is designed to achieve:
to build a relationship over the phone, [with the patient] so [the patient] might be comfortable discussing his situation and his goals. Then he’ll be empowered to communicate those things with others, including his family and his doctors. He could also choose to allow the counselor to talk to his doctors or family directly. It’s paid for by insurers and federal privacy rules permit this for business purposes.
According to Vital Decision's CEO, the goal is to facilitate discussions about end of life care and empower the patient's decision-making. "The goal is for patients to receive care in those final months that aligns with what the patient wants, even if that's the most aggressive treatment available." Some are skeptical of this phone approach because of the lack of in-person interaction and the challenges to remain neutral, which is why one expert calls for "full transparency from insurers and the company to guard against bias in the sessions."
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Recently I participated in a series of roundtable discussions about end-of-life decision making and care. Community members, doctors, hospital staff and representatives of long-term care providers participated. There were several memorable moments. At one point, a former hospital employee said that it had been her job to get "living wills" signed by patients before surgery. Another administrator confessed she wished there was a Medicare billing code, so that her staff could conduct a proper discussion of living wills and similar advance directives with patients.
According to the New York Times, there may be such a billing code, at least for private insurance. From the front page of Sunday edition, "Coverage for End-of-Life Talks Gaining Ground."
"Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over 'death panels,' the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year.
Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these 'advance care planning' conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans. People are living longer with illnesses, and many want more input into how they will spend their final days, including whether they want to die at home or in the hospital, and whether they want full-fledged life-sustaining treatment, just pain relief or something in between. Some states, including Colorado and Oregon, recently began covering the sessions for Medicaid patients.
But far more significant, Medicare may begin covering end-of-life discussions next year if it approves a recent request from the American Medical Association, the country’s largest association of physicians and medical students. One of the A.M.A.’s roles is to create billing codes for medical services, codes used by doctors, hospitals and insurers. It recently created codes for end-of-life conversations and submitted them to Medicare."
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
We have blogged previously on hospice, and a new article adds to the body of literature on the subject. The Journal of Palliative Medicine published an article by Dr. Joan Teno, Dr. Michael Plotzke, Dr. Pedro Gozalo, and Dr. Vincent Mor, A National Study of Live Discharges from Hospice. The study recognizes that there are various reasons that a person may leave hospice care, such as "patients decide to resume curative care, their condition improves, or hospices may inappropriately use live discharge to avoid costly hospitalizations." The abstract offers the following conclusion-about 20% of "hospice patients are discharged alive with variation by geographic regions and hospice programs. Not-for-profit hospices and older hospices have lower rates of live discharge." Why is it important to study this? As the introduction to article points out, there are instances when a provider may improperly discharge a patient and the timing can be telling: improper admission to hospice at the beginning or an effort to avoid costs. Building on existing research, this study finds similar results in some areas, but makes some important conclusions that deserve additional study
Provide and state variation raises concern that live discharges are not driven by patient preference but by provider and market behavior. Hospice programs that exceed their aggregate reimbursement caps (a marker for hospices with an excessive average hospice length of stay) had nearly double the rate of live discharges compared to hospice programs that did not exceed their aggregate cap.
The authors suggest there are certain red flags that should alert regulators that more careful scrutiny is needed for a specific hospice.
A hospice program with a high rate of live discharges deserves regulatory scrutiny especially when they have a pattern of hospitalization and hospice readmission. With increased hospice competition or potential future changes in hospice payment policies, hospices may change their enrollment and pattern of live discharges to maximize their profitability. Potentially, live hospice discharges represent a vulnerability of the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Hospices with high rate of these patterns of live discharges should trigger further regulatory review that examine whether their hospice enrollees were eligible, adequately informed about the Medicare hospice benefit before electing hospice, and whether the hospice program did a good enough job of advance care planning to avoid hospitalizations.
Monday, August 18, 2014
A number of years ago I audited a very interesting course in a gerontology program with the title "Housing the Elderly." It occurred to me at the time, however, that the title was a bit unfortunate, as it implied "warehousing" old folks rather than truly accomodating potential needs. Fortunately, over time I have sensed a growing appreciation of the significance of the distinction.
I was reminded of this while reading "For an Aging Parent, an 'In-Law Suite' Can Provide a Home within a Home" in the Washington Post. The article describes the experience of one family's decision to add a bedroom suite on the first level of their home to meet the needs of a aging parent. According to housing experts quoted in the article "demand for in-law suites is growing."
The article contrasts "true in-law suites" -- defined as a "living space integrated into a house to accomodate an older or disabled reative" -- with "accessory dwelling units" or ADUs. ADUs "function as separate dwelling units and often are intenteded for rental." As I recall, a few years ago, prefabricated versions of ADUs were popular in the media and dubbed "granny pods." Does anyone know whether granny pods ever caught on? The article suggests that building codes and zoning codes may present barriers to certain types of supplemental construction. I suspect that it would also be easy to trigger homeowner association restrictions.
The article suggests practical considerations:
- The suite should be comfortable and private to foster a feeling of independence....
At the same time, it should be close and connected to the family living area.
Place the suite on the main floor so that it has access to shared living spaces without the barrier of stairs.
Incorporate wide hallways and doorways (at least 36 inches) in the suite and adjoining living spaces to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and people walking side by side.
- Integrate features that are attractive but safe and accessible, such as smooth flooring, lever handles for doors and faucets, non-skid bathroom flooring, a large curbless shower, a shower bench, a hand-held shower head, a chair-height toilet and sturdy, good-looking grab bars.
Many of these are core principles for "Universal Design," a housing construction movement that can be traced back to the early 1960s.
Building or selecting a new house? Consideration of universal design features may make it possible to stay at home much longer as you age. AARP offers additional suggestions in a recent interview with Universal Design Specialist Richard Duncan. And more info is available at UniversalDesign.com including citations to local, state or federal laws that may mandate certain elements of universal design for new construction.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Washington Post ran a fascinating article on a particular Medicare scam. A Medicare Scam That Just Kept Rolling was published August 16, 2014 and focuses on power wheelchairs. The article offers a detailed look at how this particular scam worked.
The wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair.
This eye-opening article points out that the depth and breadth of the scam remains largely unknown, but is on its way out.
But, while it lasted, the scam illuminated a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice.
The article is accompanied by a video that shows in "four easy steps" how to perpetrate a Medicare scam as well as a sidebar with slides showing how the power wheelchair scam works. Variations of the scam are more than 40 years old and have morphed with the times.
If you aren't shaking your head in wonder now, consider why these scams can happen:
[F]or Medicare officials at headquarters, seeing the problem and stopping it were two different things.
That’s because Medicare is an enormous system, doing one of the most difficult jobs in the federal government. It receives about 4.9 million claims per day, each of them reflecting the nuances of a particular patient’s condition and particular doctor’s treatment decisions.
By law, Medicare must pay most of those claims within 30 days. In that short window, it is supposed to filter out the frauds, finding bills where the diagnosis or the prescription seem bogus.
The way the system copes is with a procedure called “pay and chase.” Only a small fraction of claims 3 percent or less — are reviewed by a live person before they are paid. The rest are reviewed only after the money is spent. If at all.
The whole thing is set up as a kind of honor system, built at the heart of a system so rich that it made it easy for people to be dishonorable.
The article talks about comparisons--the amount of money spent on power wheelchairs as compared to the total amount of dollars spent in the Medicare universe and although the amount spent on wheelchairs is a lot, it's a small amount in that universe. The article mentions the steps the government has taken to end the motorized wheelchair scam such as competitive bidding and rent-to-own. So if the wheelchair scam is on the decline, what's the next one? According to the article, orthotics and prosthetics. Stay tuned...
Monday, August 11, 2014
NCLC's Consumer Rights Litigation Conference on November 6-9, 2014 in Tampa, FL has scholarships available for consumer rights advocates.
REGISTER ONLINE TODAY by clicking on this link here: Register Online
Source: National Consumer Law Center
Thursday, July 31, 2014
As readers of this Blog may recall, back in April 2008 NBC's Dateline program aired a segment called "Tricks of the Trade" that incorporated use of hidden cameras to record portions of seminars that allegedly showed insurance salesmen trained to market certain types of deferred payment annuities. The NBC program alleged that the sales techniques specifically and improperly targeted or misled older consumers.
Tyrone M. Clark and his company, Brokers' Choice of America (BCA), brought suit against NBC and certain employees in federal court in Colorado, claiming the Dateline program violated state law, including allegations of defamation. Clark and BCA also alleged constitutional violations. The federal district court dismissed the complaint in 2011.
On July 9, 2014 the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the alleged 4th Amendment violations, but remanded for further proceedings on the allegations of defamation. At the heart of Clark's claim was the argument that a full, unedited viewing of his seminar for insurance salesmen would reveal that students were properly counseled that such "annuities were not for everyone" and that salespeople must give "full disclosure of various advantages and disadvantages of the annuity products." In other words, Clark claimed Dateline's excerpts were misleading, and therefore defamatory.
The Tenth Circuit's ruling on defamation stressed that it was reviewing the district court's ruling on NBC's motion to dismiss and thus must view the facts alleged in the complaint "as true and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party," i.e., Clark and BCA. The 10th Circuit concluded, "Whether these allegations will survive summary judgment remains to be seen. The factual basis of the complaint ... is sufficient to state a plausible claim."
Further, the Tenth Circuit upheld the request by Clark and BCA to discovery of the full, unedited tapes surreptitiously recorded by NBC, production that NBC has resisted:
"BCA would be greatly prejudiced in its ability to prove the defamation claim without access to the unedited film. Dateline's First Amendment interests do not involve the disclosure of confidential information or confidential sources. The fact-finder is entitled to the best evidence available, particularly in a case like this, which asks whether the media's zeal to report and perhaps sensationalize should be tempered by its responsibility not to defame. For all of those reasons, BCA's factual allegations are sufficient to warrant discovery of the unedited film. The Colorado statue [on newsperson's privilege] is a shield, not a sword."
For additional details, see the 10th Circuit's ruling on Broker's Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc. and commentary from the Colorado Bar Association's Legal Connection news.
Friday, July 25, 2014
The Consumer Rights Litigation Conference, put on by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), is set for November 6-9 in Tampa Florida. This is the preeminent program for consumer rights advocates and there are several sessions with a special focus on protection of older persons. Sessions include:
"Reverse Mortages: New Changes and Old Challenges to Foreclosure," with Odette Williamson and Margot Saunders, NCLC, focusing on "emerging issues in reverse mortgages, including the new 'ability to pay' determinations and protections for dispossessed spouses." (Friday morning, Nov. 7)
"Retirement Benefits and Bankruptcy, Do they Mix?" by Tara Twomey (NCLC), asking whether a "fresh start jeopardizes the debtor's ability to receive social security benefits" and to what extent are "retirement savings off the table for nonsecured creditors." (Saturday morning, Nov. 8)
"Challenging Financial Fraud and Scams Aimed at Older Adults," by David Kirman (North Carolina Department of Justice) and Stephan A. Weisbrod (Weisbrod, Mattis & Coply PLLC), examining legal tools that can be used to challenge these practices, including private actions and suits brought under state statutes, such as California's Financial Elder Abuse Act. (Saturday afternoon, Nov. 8)
Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
Monday, July 21, 2014
ElderLawGuy (and good friend) Jeff Marshall has a great blog post on "How to Find A Good Attorney for Older Adult Issues" He knows whereof he speaks and starts off by explaining the important reasons for asking the right questions:
"Planning for senior issues like incapacity and long term care is an important aspect of the services provided by what have become known as “elder law attorneys.” Unfortunately, in most states any lawyer can say he or she practices elder law or hold themselves out as being an “elder law attorney” even if the lawyer has little or no experience with the issues that are especially important to older adults. This means seniors must be particularly cautious in choosing a lawyer and carefully investigate the lawyer before hiring."
Jeff explains the significance of "certification" as a specialist and how to assess "ratings" or particular approaches to planning, such as "life care planning." The post is useful both for consumers and young attorneys thinking about how to build a respected career.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
We've previously posted advance information about the International Elder Law and Policy Conference that will be hosted this week -- July 10-11 -- in Chicago. The organizers are John Marshall Law School; Roosevelt University, College of of Arts and Sciences; and East China University of Political Science and Law.
The conference will have an interesting format, combining presentations from a range of professionals with experience working with or for older persons, and working sessions to draft a model "International Bill of Rights for Elderly Persons, in parallel with U.N. sessions on ageing.
As an example of the breadth of participation and coverage at this conference, my session on Thursday focuses on "Health Care, Caregving for Older Persons and Legal Decision Making," and will be co-moderated with Professor Walter Kendall at John Marshall. The panel includes the following topics and speakers:
- "Dementia and Planning Death: The Challenge for Advance Directives," by Meredith Blake at University of Western Austalia Law School
- "Social Change and Its Apparent Effect on Senior Care Services: A Comparative Study of Post-Soviet Union Russia and the U.S.," by Amy Delaney, partner at Delaney, Delany & Voorn in Illinois, and Alina Risser, a lawyer from Russia, currently studying law at John Marshall;
- "Rights are Not Good for Older Persons in Long-Term Care Settings? Experience from the European Union," by Nena Georgantzi, Legal Officer for AGE Platform Europe;
- "Bridging the Caregiver Gap: Does Technology Provde an Ethically and Legally Viable Answer?," by Donna Harkness, University of Memphis School of Law;
- "The Insufficiency of Spiritual Support of Urban Elders in China and Suggestions on Legislation," by Jun Li, East China University of Political Science and Law.
We'll report more after the events on Thursday and Friday!
July 9, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Last week's news of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding in the Texas-based senior living company Sears Methodist Retirement Systems, Inc. (SMRS) has once again generated questions about "entrance fees" paid by residents at the outset of their move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). CCRCs typically involve a tiered system of payments, often including a substantial (very substantial) upfront fee, plus monthly "service" fees. The upfront fee will carry a label, such as "admission fee" or "entrance fee" or even entrance "deposit," depending on whether and how state regulations require or permit certain labels to be used.
As a suggestion of the significance of the dollars, a resident's key upfront fee at a CCRC operated by SMRS reportedly ranged from $115,000 to $208,000. And it can be much higher with other companies. So, let's move away from the SMRS case for this "blog" outline of potential issues with upfront resident fees.
Even without talking about bankruptcy court, for residents of CCRCs there can be a basic level of confusion about upfront fees. In some instances, the CCRC marketing materials will indicate the upfront fee is "refundable," in whole or in part, in the event the resident moves out of the community or passes away. Thus, residents may assume the fees are somehow placed in a protected account or escrow account. In fact, even if the upfront fee is not "refundable," when there is a promise of "life time care," residents may assume upfront fees are somehow set aside to pay for such care. How the facility is marketed may increase the opportunity for resident confusion. Residents are looking for reassurances about the costs of future care and how upfront fees could impact their bottom line. That is often why they are looking at CCRCs to begin with. "Refundable fees" or "life care plans" can be important marketing tools for CCRCs. But discussions in the sales office of a CCRC may not mirror the "contract" terms.
One of the most important aspects of CCRCs is the "contract" between the CCRC and the resident. First, smaller "pre move-in" deposits may be paid to "hold" a unit, and this deposit may be expressly subject to an "escrow" obligation. But, larger upfront fees -- paid as part of the residency right -- are typically not escrowed. It is important not to confuse the "escrow" treatment of these fees. Of course, the "hold" fee is not usually the problem. It is the larger upfront fees --such as the $100k+ fees at SMRS -- that can become the focus of questions, especially if a bankruptcy proceeding is initiated.
The resident's contract requires very careful reading, and it will usually explain whether and how a CCRC company will make any refund of large upfront admission fees. In my experience of reading CCRC contracts, CCRCs rarely "guarantee" or "secure" (as opposed to promise) a refund, nor do they promise to escrow such upfront fees for the entire time the payer resides at the CCRC. In some states there is a "reserve" requirement (by contract or state law) for large upfront fees whereby the CCRC has a phased right to release or use the fees for its operation costs. Thus, the contract terms are the starting place for what will happen with upfront fees.
Why doesn't state regulation mandate escrow of large upfront fees? States have been reluctant to give-in to pressure from some resident groups seeking greater mandatory "protection" of their upfront fees. There's often a "free enterprise, let the market control" element to one side of regulatory debates. On the other side, there is the question of whether life savings of the older adult are proper targets for free enterprise theories. Professor Michael Floyd, for example, has asked, "Should Government Regulate the Financial Management of Continuing Care Retirement Communities?"
My research has helped me realize how upfront fees are a key financial "pool" for the CCRC, especially in the early years of operation where the developer is looking to pay off construction costs and loans. CCRCs want -- and often need -- to use those funds for current operations. and debt service. Thus, they don't want to have those fees encumbered by guarantees to residents. They take the position they cannot "afford" to have that pool of money sitting idle in a bank account, earning minimal interest. This is not to say the large entrance fees will be "misspent," but rather, the CCRC owners may wish to preserve flexibility about how and when to spend the upfront fees.
The treatment of "upfront fees" paid by residents of CCRCs also implicates questions about application of accounting and actuarial rules and principles. That important topic is worthy of a whole "law review article" -- and frankly it is a topic I've been working on for months.
In additional to looking for actuarial soundness, analysts who examine CCRCs as a matter of academic interest or practical concern have looked at whether CCRC companies and lenders may have a "fiduciary duty" to older adults/residents, a duty that is independent of any contract law obligations. Analysts further question whether a particular CCRC's marketing or financial practices violate consumer protection or elder protection laws.
There can also be confusion about what happens during a Chapter 11 process. First, during the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy process, a facility may be able to honor pre-bankruptcy petition "refund" requests or requests for refund of fees for a resident who does not move into the facility. Second, to permit continued operation as part of the reorganization plan, a facility will typically be permitted by the Court to accept new residents during the Chapter 11 proceeding and those specific new residents will have their upfront fees placed into a special escrow account, an account that cannot be used to pay the pre-petition debts of the company.
But what about the upfront fees already paid pre-petition by residents who also moved in before the bankruptcy petition? Usually those upfront fees are not escrowed during the bankruptcy process. Indeed, other "secured" creditors could object to refunds of "unsecured" fees. The Bankruptcy Court will usually issue an order -- as it did in SRMS's bankruptcy court case in Texas last week -- specifying how current residents' upfront fees will be treated now and in the future. A bit complicated, right? (And if I'm missing something please feel free to comment. I'm always interested in additional viewpoints on CCRCs. Again, the specific contract and any state laws or regulations governing for handling of fees will be important.)
Of course, this history is one reason some of us have been suggesting for years that prospective residents should have an experienced lawyer or financial consultant help them understand their contracts and evaluate risks before signing and again in the event of any bankruptcy court proceeding. "Get thee to a competent advisor." See also University of New Mexico Law Professor Nathalie Martin's articles on life-care planning risks and bankruptcy law.
As I mentioned briefly in writing last week about the SMRS Chapter 11 proceeding, CCRC operators have learned -- especially after the post-2008 financial crisis -- that the ability of a CCRC to have a viable "second chance" at success in attracting future residents will often depend on the treatment of existing residents. Thus, one key question in any insolvency will be whether the company either (a) finds a new "owner" during the Chapter 11 process or (2) is able to reorganize the other debts, thereby making it possible for the CCRC company to "honor" the resident refund obligations after emerging from the Chapter 11 process.
During the last five years we have seen one "big" default on residents' upfront. refundable entrance fees during the bankruptcy of Covenant at South Hills, a CCRC near Pittsburgh. A new, strong operator eventually did take over the CCRC, and operations continued. However, the new operator did not "assume" an obligation to refund approximately $26 million in upfront fees paid pre-petition by residents to the old owner. In contrast, Chapter 11 proceedings for some other CCRCs have had "gentler" results for residents, with new partners or new financial terms emerging from the proceedings, thereby making refunds possible as new residents take over the departed residents' units.
For more on how CCRC companies view "use" of upfront fees, here's a link to a short and clear discussion prepared by DLA Piper law firm, which, by the way, is the law firm representing the Debtor SMRS in the Texas Chapter 11 proceeding.
June 18, 2014 in Consumer Information, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Retirement, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Does a resident have a private right of action for violation of key provisions of the federal Nursing Home Reform Act?
For example, federal Medicare/Medicaid Law specifies residents have certain "Transfer and Discharge Rights." A certified nursing facility must permit each resident to "remain in the facility" and must "not transfer or discharge the resident" except for certain specified reasons, usually requiring 30 days advance notice. But what happens if a facility ignores the limitations on acceptable grounds for transfer or discharge, including the 30 day notice requirement?
In its decision on May 12, 2014 in Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that a discharge improper under federal law does not trigger a private statutory remedy. As described in the clearly written decision, an abrupt transfer of the resident from the nursing home into a hospital followed the resident's "verbal dispute with a nurse" and another resident. While federal law permits transfers where there someone's safety or health is endangered, it does not appear from the decision that the nursing home claimed the verbal dispute created such a danger.
Nonetheless, the court dismissed the resident's federal claim, concluding that the statutory language regarding discharge and transfer rights in Medicare and Medicaid law "does not manifest a 'clear and unambiguous' Congressional intention to create private rights in favor of individual nursing facility residents.... The NHRA [Nursing Home Reform Act] provides an administrative process in the state courts rather than a private remedy in federal court."
In so ruling, the federal district court declined to follow the analysis of the Third Circuit in Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel, 570 3d 520 (3d Cir. 2008), which as a "matter of first impression" ruled that the NHRA was sufficiently "rights creating" that it could trigger a cause of action regarding quality of care under Section 1983.
My question, reflecting my teaching interests no doubt, is whether the nursing home's discharge was a breach of contract? Most nursing home contracts I've reviewed either directly or indirectly "adopt" the protections of the NHRA as specific rights of their residents. (Indeed, I would be leery of any nursing home that did not do that.) So, even if not a violation of federal law, wouldn't such a discharge breach the contract? I suspect there is probably a court decision or law review article on this topic -- perhaps our readers have a citation?
Of course, in seeking a right to sue directly under the NHRA, the resident was probably also seeking a right to claim attorneys' fees under the civil rights law; breach of contract claims, even if successful, may not make a claimant "whole" because of the likelihood of small consequential damages and no contractual right to seek attorneys' fees. It is not clear from the Schwerdtfeger decision whether a breach of contract claim was alleged, although the federal court did "decline" to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's "state law claims."
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Bed Handles Inc., of Blue Springs, Mo., are announcing the voluntary recall of about 113,000 adult portable bed handles. When attached to an adult’s bed without the use of safety retention straps, the handle can shift out of place creating a dangerous gap between the bed handle and the side of the mattress. This poses a serious risk of entrapment, strangulation and death. Three women died after becoming entrapped between the mattress and the bed handles. They include an elderly woman, age unknown, who died in an Edina, Minn. assisted living facility; a 41-year-old disabled woman who died in a Renton, Wash. adult family home; and an 81-year-old woman who died in a Vancouver, Wash. managed care facility. The recall involves adult portable bed handles sold by Bed Handles Inc. from 1994 through 2007 that do not have safety retention straps to secure the bed handle to the bed frame to keep the bed handle from shifting out of place and creating a dangerous gap. Recalled models include the Original Bedside Assistant® (BA10W), the Travel Handles™ (BA11W) which is sold as a set of two bed handles, and the Adjustable Bedside Assistant® (AJ1). Consumers should immediately stop using all recalled bed handles that were sold without safety retention straps. Contact Bed Handles Inc. for free safety retention straps to secure the bed handle to the bed frame, new assembly and installation instructions for models BA10W, BA11W and AJ1 and a warning label to attach to the bed handles. The bed handles should be used only with the safety retention straps securely in place attaching the bed handle to the bed frame in order to prevent a gap.
Source/more: CPSC/Bed Handles, Inc.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) utilize a variety of payment arrangements to attract potential residents. One option popular prior to the 2008 recession was a "100% refundable entrance fee" model, where the new resident was promised return of his or her upfront entrance fee upon "termination," subject to certain conditions, usually including re-occupancy of the unit in question by a new resident. During good financial times, this refund option benefited both parties. The company could rely on a quick "resale" of the unit, either for the same or a higher entrance fee. Thus the company often took the position it was able to "use" the original resident's entrance fee immediately, subject to any state regulations for mandatory reserves or other repayment guarantees or restrictions.
But who bears the risk of a downturn in the senior living market, especially the dramatic downturn that accompanied the 2008-2010 recession?
In Stewart v. Henry Ford Village, Inc., the issue was whether a departing resident must accept the company's offer of a lower refund, tied to what any new resident would pay as an entrance fee to reside in that unit. The difference was hefty, as the resident had paid $137k in 1998 when she moved in, but when she left the community in 2010, comparable units were reportedly going for $89k.
In a rare court decision analyzing a refundable fee, the Court of Appeals for Michigan ruled that the parties' contract language controlled, and in this contract the contract did not provide for a lower refund amount. Further, the company's obligation to comply with the contract terms was subject to an implied obligation of good faith (a Contract Law concept my students would, I hope, recognize!) to promptly market and "resell" the unit, thus suggesting a CCRC would not be in good faith for delaying a unit's resale as a negotiation tool. Here is the heart of the court's analysis:
"Given the totality of the circumstances, the status of the parties, and the rights and obligations as set forth in the Agreement, the Disclosure Statement, and the [state's Living Care Disclosure Act] we find no support for the conclusion that plaintiff should or is obliged to bear the risks of a declining real estate market. To the contrary, those risks would seem properly to fall to defendant. By way of example, when a lessee properly complies with his or her lease in vacating a rental property, the lessee bears no responsibility for the fact that the landlord may need to lower the rent to attract a subsequent tenant. Rather, it is the landlord alone who must bear the consequences of the existing market risks. Additionally, plaintiff notes that if the unit was subsequently reoccupied with a higher entrance deposit, defendant would not furnish additional monies to plaintiff. Defendant has not suggested otherwise.... It strikes us as incongruous, as unsupported contractually, and as of questionable good faith (without adequate disclosure), that plaintiff be held to bear the risks of a declining real estate market without the ability to reap the rewards of a booming one."
In the "unpublished" (and therefore nonprecedential) opinion, the Michigan appellate court remanded for an evidentiary hearing. The ruling demonstrates the importance of the contract language, state regulations, and, I suspect, the likelihood that future refundable fee CCRC contracts will provide clearly that refunds will be tied in whole or in part to "resale" amounts, at least for any so-called 100% refundable fee agreements.
It should also be noted that refundability of admission fees is potentially a separate issue from actuarially sound practices for CCRCs in the handling of such fees. Along that line, I note that one of the residents who pioneered concerns about financial soundness in CCRCs, Charles Prine of Pittsburgh, passed away recently. Mr. Prine's articulate advocacy included testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Chuck will be missed.
Monday, May 26, 2014
When I was a child, there was a movie -- or maybe a tv show -- with a friendly robot named Tobor. Tobor soon became an imaginary friend for the neighborhood children, and conveniently, someone we could blame when we forgot to close a door or knocked something over. "Tobor did it!"
Fast forward many years and last week, during a meeting at my Area Agency on Aging, I learned the AAA had entered into a contract with a company that makes home medication dispensers to provide the devices at a modest cost to clients in the county. "Tobor for the Boomer Generation!"
The device, about the size of a blender or coffee machine, can be pre-loaded with a large number of doses of different kinds of medications with different dispensing schedules, and with recorded messages such as "Drink with water." The machine signals the client to take the revealed dose, and continues the signal until the medication is removed. It can also be programmed to contact a family member about a missed dose. Of course, there are limits to the utility of any automated device, as the client must still have the capacity to follow the directions and not simply discard the dose.
It will be interesting to see, over time, whether (and which kind of ) Tobors are effective innovations with long-range satisfaction and utility. I do seem to have a lot of ignored contraptions on my own kitchen counter.