Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Checking the filial responsibility law case in PA

I checked back to see if there has been any change in the situation in Pennsylvania with the case of John Pittas and the state’s filial responsibility law, and I don’t find anything on the web that indicates any change. 
There is a detailed “clinic alert” post on the website of New Jersey law firm Hill Wallack LLP from July 20, 2012 that indicates that the son still has liability. The law firm notes that a Pennsylvania appeals court had noted that the nursing home had the duty to prove that the son had the ability to pay but had done so.  The law firm writes the post expecting (correctly) that the general public is likely to be unaware of the seriousness of this problem.  The link ("Requiring adult children to pay their parents' unpaid nursing home bills") is here. (The link seems to be inactive now -- try a similar article by MSN Money by liz Weston. "Will you get Dad's nursing home bill?" here
The law firm notes an old case (1969) where a New Jersey court had upheld a New York state claim as not being “penal” and apparently upheld it under Full Faith and Credit (the concept that we hear about today in conjunction with gay marriage).  I am under the impression that New York State may no longer have a filial responsibility law (please correct me in a comment if I’m wrong). 

I looked back to my posting here on May  24, 2012 and found that another link there, the “Legally Speaking” column at “Grimes Legal”, from July 2009, had discussed some other major cases like Don Grant and Andrea August.  The specific Pennsylvania law seems to be “Act 43” in the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code, “23 PSA CSA 4603”.  Grimes notes that filial responsibility laws had been common in English law and imported into the colonies, and remained relatively unnoticed until Medicare and Medicaid left people the impression (incorrectly) that they could not apply.

If anything, the pressure on state budgets could lead them to enforce them again. And they also feed the ideological fight in Congress at the national level, that entitlement needs to be scaled back and that eldercare  (and disability care, and backp for the indigent) needs to stay within the family. It’s important to remember that usually Medicare does not pay nursing home bills even today (except for short skilled nursing episodes). 
What’s even more important is the way our culture builds up its ethical rules regarding family responsibility.  People have the impression, if you don’t want to pay someone else’s bills, just don’t get pregnant (or don’t get someone else pregnant).  But, with population demographics, we may be entering a world where deliberately avoiding having a family (because of cost, and in order to pursue one’s own career and expressive goals) could be seen as wrong as having children “accidentally”.  That’s the way it was a half-century ago in a lot of circles, but nobody talked about it that way.  

The Wealth Channel TV has a four-minute video "Filial Responsibility Laws: A Terrifying New Development", in which a tax expert (professor Ted Kurlowicz, Taxation, the American College) notes that the Pennsylvania law applies in both directions:  a parent could be held responsible for an indigent adult child, too.  He also notices that Pennsylvania moved its ancient law to the "domestic relations code" as a reaction to the federal deficit reduction action in 2005 (the technicalities are not clear) and that the significance of the action went largely unnoticed except by a few "public policy trolling" bloggers.  He notes that the law seems to encourage a nursing home to go after a private paying party before asking the state (Medicaid) to pay.  But more states would be likely to do the same thing as their budgets contract and federal deficit reduction measures crimp them.  

The "filial responsibility" issue ought to come up in 2013 in conjunction with deficit reduction. 

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