State eyeing possible change to law that allows nursing homes to extract funds from residents' children

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North Dakota is looking at a possible change to a state law that allows nursing homes to obtain unpaid debts from residents' adult children.

The legislation in question is called the “filial support” law, which requires children to support their indigent parents, the Bismarck Tribune reports. It's been in place since 1877, and at least two dozen other states having similar such laws on the books.

While it sounds dramatic, the head of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association told the newspaper that nursing homes are legally obligated under Medicaid to pursue collecting such debt. She added that operators only use the filial statute in circumstances where parents transfer income or assets to children and no longer qualify for Medicaid.

But the adult children who receive the bills say they have no way to pay and are fighting in court. In one case, a family said it received a $43,000 nursing home bill six months after their father, a resident at Augusta Place in Bismarck, died. The nursing home's attorney contends the Augusta Place resident's wife and children retained possession of his assets both before and after his death, adding that the family were given “numerous attempts to reasonably resolve” the conflict and “have a duty to support” their father after his passing.

Officials with Augusta Place and its parent company, Prospera, were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

While it's unclear what the outcome of the case will be, two state lawmakers are reportedly now exploring ways to modify the statute in upcoming legislative sessions.

"How do we protect, essentially, children from being responsible for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills they had no say in?" said Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) told the newspaper.