Friday, August 10, 2018
Filial Friday: N.D. Nursing Home's Claim Against Adult Children for Father's Unpaid Bills Set for September Trial
According to news reports, here and here, three siblings are facing a September 2018 trial date after being sued by a North Dakota nursing home for more than $43,000 in unpaid costs of care for their father, incurred during a seven month stay at the facility. The children maintain they have no contractual obligation with the nursing home, and were not involved in their father's application for Medicaid, nor did they receive disqualifying gifts from their father. A denial of a Medicaid application can arise if there is an uncompensated transfer of assets within a five year look back period, or because of certain other unexplained failures to use the father's "available" resources to pay for his care.
A North Dakota's statute, N.D.C.C. Section 14-09-10, with language that can be traced back to filial support laws of Elizabethan England, provides:
It is the duty of the father, the mother, and every child of any person who is unable to support oneself, to maintain that person to the extent of the ability of each. This liability may be enforced by any person furnishing necessaries to the person. The promise of an adult child to pay for necessaries furnished to the child's parent is binding.
One news report quotes the executive director of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, Shelly Peterson, as saying nursing homes use the law to go after adult children in only one circumstance: "When parents transfer income or assets to their children, and then the parents don't qualify for Medicaid." The director is reported as further contending that "facilities are 'legally obligated' under Medicaid to pursue every avenue possible to collect that debt, including suing, before they can get reimbursed from the state Department of Human Services for a debt that cannot be recovered."
According to some sources, local legislators, aroused by this suit, are looking at whether North Dakota should continue to permit nursing home collections under North Dakota's indigent support law. Such laws have been blocked or repealed in most other U.S. states. North Dakota and my own state, Pennsylvania, are the two most notable exceptions.
My reaction to the news articles on this case is "something doesn't add up here" and some key facts seem to be missing.
- First, if the father was in the nursing home for 7 months, who did the children think was paying for his care? I can't imagine no one in the family asked that question for that period of time (although certainly Medicaid applications can take time to process and perhaps the denial came in after the father's death).
- What was the basis for any denial for Medicaid? I've seen Medicaid denied for inability of the applicant (or applicant agent) to track down some old resource, such as a demutualized life insurance policy. Also, what is the source of the contention that Medicaid law "requires the facility to sue" to collect the debt? I'm not aware of any such rule at the federal level.
- Is there another member of the family involved in the application -- someone other than the three target children -- or is there another family member involved in any "transfers" causing an alleged ineligibility period? In the U.S., filial support laws don't prioritize collection, nor require recovery from so-called "bad" children, rather than more "innocent" children.
- Finally, why weren't there care planning meetings with the family that included discussions of costs of care? It always raises a red flag for me when the "first" alleged notice of such a claim arises after the death or discharge of a resident.
Perhaps we will hear the results of the trial or any settlement, and thus hear a more complete picture of how these bills came to accumulate.