New measure would outlaw admissions arbitration agreements

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Nursing homes, consumers lock horns over arbitration bill at congressional hearing
Nursing homes, consumers lock horns over arbitration bill at congressional hearing
A new Senate bill would do away with increasingly popular pre-dispute arbitration agreements for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The bill was introduced by Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI), the chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, and Mel Martinez (R-FL) on Wednesday.

The Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act is an amendment to the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925. Originally designed as a way to allow businesses to bypass judge and jury trials to settle disputes, the Federal Arbitration Act is now also used by many nursing homes to avert costly trials if charges of neglect, abuse or wrongful death are brought against them.

The FNHA act would not bar the use of arbitration agreements under all circumstances. Instead, it would prevent nursing homes and assisted living facilities from insisting prospective residents sign them as a pre-requisite for care.  

While providers have rallied for broader use of such clauses with admissions agreements, critics claim they often take advantage of individuals or family members ill-equipped to understand and digest the consequences of their actions at what is usually a stressful time. The courts have delivered mixed messages about the controversial clauses, with plaintiffs and defendants both laying claim to victories, depending on the state and circumstances.