Don Grant is a Baby Boomer, nearly fifty years old, struggling to meet his monthly mortgage while paying off his daughter’s $100,000 in student lo
July 23, 2009

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Don Grant is a Baby Boomer, nearly fifty years old, struggling to meet his monthly mortgage while paying off his daughter’s $100,000 in student loans. Last year, like so many other Americans, he lost his job, going months before finding work for less pay at a firm that sell foreclosures.

A month later, to add insult to injury, he found himself being sued by a Delaware County nursing home where his mother – with whom he had been estranged since childhood, having been raised by his grandparents – had racked up a $8,000 bill she refused to pay, the latest of a long string of debts racking up many thousands of dollars Diana Fichera has refused to pay. Under an archaic law dating back to Elizabethan England, the law can force adult children to pay for their parents’ medical care, even if they have the money and simply refuse to pay. Diana Fichera, who with a $1,434 monthly pension in addition a second pension and Social Security benefits, is better off financially than either her son or his half-sister, also dragged into the lawsuit. But pensions and Social Security are exempt from being garnished for debts – so the nursing home’s lawyers went after the children. Don Grant couldn’t afford even the $400 for a lawyer, so tried to represent himself against the full battery of the Blue Bell legal firm. Not surprisingly, he lost.

So now he is faced with a stark choice: Go into even further debt to pay his irresponsible mother’s medical bills, or ignore it, risking total financial collapse. "If I go to buy a car, it's going to affect my credit," he says. "If we try to sell the house, it will come up."

A growing number of major law firms in Pennsylvania are specializing in representing nursing homes and hospitals, filing suits against adult children even if the children live out of state and even if it's been years since they had contact with their parents. Diana Fichera is simply an uncaring deadbeat who, with the help of these ‘creative’ lawyers, has found a legal loophole allowing her to foist her financial responsibilities onto her helpless children.

But it’s not just unscrupulous parents – Andrea August of Norristown, Pennsylvania was stunned when a nursing home sued her for more than $300,000 in unpaid bills for her late father’s care as well as her mother’s, who suffers from dementia. August and her husband work two jobs each just to live paycheck to paycheck along with their two children. August never had power of attorney over her parent’s assets, and had believed the nursing home had already worked out how her parent’s bills would be paid, unaware the elderly couple were not covered by Medicaid. August certainly loved her parents and did what she could, but footing their enormous medical bills was completely out of her reach.

No doubt there are many other elderly and ill parents of adult children, like Andrea August’s, who genuinely cannot pay for medical care, or even negotiate any possible arrangement for care if suffering from dementia.

And according to Neil E. Hendershot, a Harrisburg lawyer and legal blogger, thirty more states have legislation on the books that can make adult children responsible for their parent’s medical costs, regardless of the financial burden, it’s not just Pennsylvanians who need to worry about this. Part of the problem lies in another federal law, passed in 2005 - the Deficit Reduction Act - making it even more difficult for nursing home patients to obtain Medicaid coverage for their care. Yup, let’s reduce the deficit by reducing already inadequate health care for the neediest, most vulnerable – and least able to complain about it.

Given the state of the health care and insurance crisis in America, isn’t it nice to know that rather than doing everything in their power pass legislation to give every American affordable health coverage, we have all those tireless politicians dedicated to break Obama at Waterloo? Who needs single-payer health care, or any public health care, when we have such handy laws to force blameless victims into deeper financial distress?

Ah, yes. Health care. The compassionate conservative style.

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