An investigation by KHN and NPR revealed that nursing homes across the United States are suing relatives and friends of nursing home residents to collect debts. While the issue of health care debt has been broadly reported, this new spin on debt collection is regularly overlooked.
In some cases, nursing homes use filial responsibility and similar laws to sue children and relatives of their residents. In other situations, nursing homes allegedly use inadequately explained clauses in admissions paperwork to have friends who merely plan to help a friend into the center take financial responsibility if the resident is unable to pay.
Does Pennsylvania have a family responsibility law?
Under Pennsylvania law, spouses, parents, and adult children may be held responsible for an indigent person’s medical and nursing home debt. Although this law exempts children whose parents abandoned them for a minimum of ten years during their childhood, it doesn’t include an exception for children who become estranged from their parents in adulthood. The law allows any person, company, or government agency who has been responsible for the care or financial support of an indigent person to file a suit against that person’s spouse, parent, or child.
Does Pennsylvania law allow nursing homes to pursue someone who isn’t a spouse, parent, or child of a resident for debt collection?
If the non-relative didn’t agree to assume the debt, they generally can’t be sued for it. A very important exception is when the nursing home can prove that the resident and the non-relative worked to transfer property to avoid paying the debt.