The current administration has set its sights on another federal rule, seeking to eliminate the ban on pre-dispute arbitration agreements for nursing home residents. Pre-dispute arbitration agreements require elderly adults and individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, to waive their right to file a lawsuit in the courts – before admission to a nursing home. As a condition to entering the nursing home, the prospective resident and his or her representative would be required to submit any dispute, including claims of egregious abuse or neglect, to mandatory arbitration proceedings.

The Current Rule

As the rule currently stands, a nursing home resident cannot be required to waive his or her right to access to the court system. This rule preserves the right of vulnerable nursing home residents to sue for injuries caused by nursing home negligence, abuse, and neglect, including pressure sore infections, suffocation caused by restraints, choking, dehydration-related conditions, gangrene, and even sexual assault.

Decision-making at the Nursing Home Door

Nursing home admission is a stressful and emotional time for the prospective resident and his or her family. Requiring a waiver of rights as a condition of admission, as occurs with pre-admission arbitration agreements, puts the person and his or her family in a time-sensitive quandary, literally at the nursing home door. Under the new amendments, if they refuse to sign away their right to go to court, they can be denied admission to the facility.

Imagine after months of discussions, the decision is finally reached to admit an elderly or disabled individual to a nursing home. This decision often involves the heartache of giving up one’s home and freedom, many possessions, and even treasured pets. The decision is often motivated by a desire to keep the individual safe and ensure that he or she receives required medical care.

But, are nursing home residents safe when they are required to sign away any right to legal accountability for mistreatment or harm in the facility?

How Arbitration is Different than a Lawsuit

Arbitrations take place in private meetings and are confidential. Because arbitrations are not public proceedings like lawsuits and trials, nursing homes have little to fear in terms of lost business or reputation, even if the arbitrator rules against them. To make matters worse, usually the pre-admission arbitration agreements give all the decision-making about the process to the nursing home, including selecting the arbitrator, location, and rules that will govern the proceedings. That removes other safeguards provided by the original rule such as choosing a neutral arbitrator.

Background on the Rule and Proposed Amendment

On October 4, 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) published a final rule entitled “Reform of Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities.” The 2016 final rule amended 42 CFR 483.70(n), prohibiting long-term care (LTC) facilities from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents or their representatives. The final rule also prohibited any requirement that a resident sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of admission to a LTC facility.

That final rule sought to preserve the right of vulnerable nursing home residents to sue in court if they suffered injury or abuse.

The American Health Care Association and a group of nursing homes sued for preliminary and permanent injunction to stop CMS from enforcing that requirement. The court granted a preliminary injunction on November 7, 2016. Thereafter, CMS reviewed and reconsidered the arbitration requirements in the 2016 final rule.

In proposed amendments to the rule under the current administration, CMS now seeks to strip nursing home residents of that right by removing the provisions prohibiting binding pre-dispute arbitration in LTC facilities. CMS provides as a reason for this action that a ban on pre-dispute arbitration agreements would “likely impose unnecessary or excessive costs on providers.”

CMS’s Proposed Revisions to Arbitration Requirements

This proposed rule focuses on the transparency surrounding the arbitration process and includes proposes that:

  • The prohibition on pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements is removed.
  • All agreements for binding arbitration must be in plain language.
  • If signing the agreement for binding arbitration is a condition of admission into the facility, the language of the agreement must be in plain writing and in the admissions contract.
  • The agreement must be explained to the resident and his or her representative in a form and manner they understand, including that it must be in a language they understand.
  • The resident must acknowledge that he or she understands the agreement.
  • The agreement must not contain any language that prohibits or discourages the resident or anyone else from communicating with federal, state, or local officials, including federal and state surveyors, other federal or state health department employees, or representatives of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
  • If a facility resolves a dispute with a resident through arbitration, it must retain a copy of the signed agreement for binding arbitration and the arbitrator’s final decision so it can be inspected by CMS or its designee.
  • The facility must post a notice regarding its use of binding arbitration in an area that is visible to both residents and visitors.