Justin Hauke

A letter in the Springfield News-Leader urges the state's congressional representatives to vote for the adoption of the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, which would allow the families of nursing home residents to litigate disputes. This law would invalidate many of Missouri's existing nursing home contracts, which require families to sign a mandatory arbitration clause in order to insure them against a lawsuit in the case of an injury or death.

I've written an op-ed about nursing home regulations before. In that article, I argued that nursing home abuses are very much a reality, but that additional regulation will only make long-term care coverage worse. Saint Louis currently enjoys having the second-lowest nursing home costs in the country, averaging $42,877 annually. Nationally, the average annual figure is $65,200, with costs as high as $191,385 in some states. This is a tremendous bill to foot for 10 or 15 years of potential care.

It's very obvious why nursing homes require an arbitration clause. They are charged with ensuring the safety of residents who often are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's and may be largely a danger to themselves. The costs of litigating every potential event (whether or not it results from negligence by the nursing home) would be prohibitive, and would force many nursing homes out of business — only driving up the costs of long-term care.

This doesn't mean that we should exonerate negligent health care workers. Many nursing home contracts are already in violation of existing laws. We should concentrate first on enforcing the laws on the books before driving up costs to the industry with little guarantee of improvement in service.

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Justin Hauke