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US nursing homes fight to keep arbitration clauses in resident contracts
US nursing homes fight to keep arbitration clauses in resident contracts

[JURIST] A representative for the US nursing home industry urged members of Congress Wednesday not to pass legislation that would eliminate the arbitration clauses which are typically part of admission contracts to nursing homes. In a joint meeting [recorded audio] between the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights and the Special Committee on Aging [official websites], Kelley Rice-Schild, a representative of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) [official website] testified [ACHA press release] that such legislation would undermine the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [USC Title 9 text], while arbitration is more efficient and could enable patients to retain a larger part of any financial settlement. However Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) [official website], who along with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) [official website] introduced the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act of 2008 [S 2838 materials] in April, argued [press release]:

Typically, admissions agreements are presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Residents have few choices because they require immediate admission or because there are no other facilities in the area…[A]s a result, whether or not they understand the arbitration provision, [people] often feel compelled to sign in order to ensure that their loved one will be admitted.

Alison Hirschel, the president of the National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform (NCCNHR) [official website], echoed the senator's concerns in a statement [PDF text] before the committee. Reuters has more.

The legislation highlights the public's concerns over long-term care facilities. A May 2008 report [PDF text] by the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) [official website] said that the state surveys of nursing homes continually understated the number of serious care problems. Last month the House version of the bill [HR 6126 materials] was introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA). The legislation has been supported by groups such as the AARP [official website] and the Alzheimer's Association [official website].