Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Death of nursing home liability bill

Mississippi -

Just like last year, legislation that would have required nursing homes to carry a minimum $500,000 in liability insurance died.

Just like last year, the Mississippi HealthCare Association argued that legislation mandating minimum liability insurance for the state's nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living facilities was unnecessary.

But unlike last year, the legislation that would have made the nursing homes carry such insurance died in the House rather than the Senate. In 2010, the legislation sailed through the House only to die in the Senate Insurance Committee.

But this year, the bill passed the House Insurance Committee by unanimous vote only to die in the full House. A number of House members who supported the measure in 2010 voted against it this year. Go figure.

The legislation would have required non-government nursing homes to carry the same $500,000 in liability coverage that government nursing homes carry. Nursing homes owned by county hospitals or other entities covered by the State Tort Claims Board are covered for legal claims up to the statutory cap of $500,000 if a jury finds that a patient has been abused, neglected or otherwise sufficiently harmed in a covered facility.

Yet a number of private nursing homes in Mississippi do not carry liability insurance sufficient to cover claims up to the statutory cap.

Some carry so-called "eroding" policies that take the nursing home's legal fees and other court costs out of the available liability insurance before a victim is compensated.

Is that fair to vulnerable patients in those private facilities? Is it fair for them to have paid taxes or have families paying taxes that subsidize the public nursing homes' tort claim coverage while the laws allow private nursing homes to be uninsured or underinsured for the very same offenses against the elderly? No.

My sisters and I had to make the painful decision to place our late parents in the care of such facilities here in Mississippi. My folks were fortunate. The people we paid to care for them when we could no longer care for them treated them with respect and compassion. That's the way it is in most of Mississippi's nursing homes, but surely not in all of them.

Nursing home abuse happens in Mississippi like it happens in the rest of the country - physical abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse. There are some 16,000 Mississippians in Mississippi's skilled nursing facilities and that number will increase exponentially as 78 million Baby Boomers age.

In the tort reform fight, Mississippi lawmakers capped tort liability damages at $500,000.

Again, the minimum nursing home liability insurance that lawmakers are rejecting requires non-government nursing homes to carry the same $500,000 in liability coverage that government nursing homes carry under the Tort Claims Act.

But it seems that some Mississippi nursing homes don't carry enough liability insurance even to cover those damage caps if a vulnerable elderly person is injured, mistreated or abused while in their care.

The pure logic of lawmakers rejecting that legislation evades me.

The nursing homes and the insurance companies got the "tort reform" caps they sought. Now, the elderly deserve some accountability from those same entities.

Strange that we require liability insurance for cars but not nursing homes. Are our cars more valuable than our mothers and fathers?

Death of nursing home liability bill an insult to patients | | The Clarion-Ledger

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