The Trump administration is officially rolling back a ban on the use of arbitration agreements by nursing homes that was initiated under President Obama. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a rule that once again allows nursing facilities to use arbitration to settle disputes with residents.
Historically, nursing homes increasingly asked — or forced — patients and their families to sign arbitration agreements prior to admission. By signing these agreements, patients or family members gave up their right to sue if they believed the nursing home was responsible for injuries or the patient’s death. The dispute had to be settled in private arbitration, and any injury to the patient did not have to be disclosed to the public.
In 2017, CMS issued a final rule prohibiting nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid from entering into binding arbitration agreements with a resident or their representative before a dispute arises. In doing so, CMS cited abundant evidence that resolving disputes behind closed doors was detrimental to the health and safety of nursing home residents.
The nursing home industry immediately challenged this rule in court and a U.S. district court issued an injunction prohibiting it from going into effect. The Trump administration then announced it was reviewing the rule.
The new rule, which takes effect on September 16, 2019, allows nursing homes to enter into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents, but prohibits nursing homes from requiring residents to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition for admission. The rule also adds a requirement that facilities give residents a 30-day period to rescind their agreement to arbitrate disputes. And it prohibits language in the arbitration agreement that prevents residents from contacting federal or state authorities.
Although under the new rule nursing homes will not be able to require residents to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of admission, nursing home resident advocacy groups contend that the effect will in many cases be the same as forcing residents to sign.
“[T]he circumstances surrounding the admissions process combined with the enormous disparity of bargaining power means that most prospective residents are unaware of the content of what they are signing or the significance of the decision to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement,” the group Justice in Aging said in a statement. “In short, allowing facilities to ask residents to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements is unfair to residents and their families and will harm their rights, safety, and quality of care.”