Good morning, and thank you all for participating in today’s virtual hearing.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on residents of nursing homes. Across the country, seniors have been further isolated from family and friends. Mortality from COVID-19 has been borne disproportionately by people living in long-term care facilities.
Recently, more attention has been paid to investors and large companies operating nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities, and whether the quality of care has suffered as a result. But less attention has been paid to some of the financial impacts on care home residents and their families as a result of the pandemic.
Congress created the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to focus on financial issues related to long-term care, combat financial abuse of older adults, and identify emerging protection risks consumers. By law, the bureau is required to coordinate consumer protection efforts among federal and state agencies on issues facing seniors, and we will be focusing more on that work.
I expect our office for American seniors to become a key pillar within the policy and law enforcement community on the financial issues facing seniors and their caregivers. With the growing population of older adults, changes in technology, the retirement security gap, the cost of long-term care, and more, there are plenty of challenges to overcome.
As part of that work, today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans are pleased to host this hearing to focus on one particular issue: medical debt collection practices as they relate to nursing care in retirement homes.
In conjunction with today’s hearing, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans conducted an analysis of debt collection issues in nursing homes. The analysis included a review of listing contracts, public filings and consumer complaints. In a recently released report, the CFPB details some of the unique medical debt circumstances associated with nursing home care. Specifically, we found that family and friends of a nursing home resident are being sued for debt collection, even though federal law prohibits nursing homes participating in certain federal insurance programs from requiring that certain third parties are financially responsible. This creates a risk that caregivers and others will be subject to debt collection practices and credit reports on invalid debts.
As a first step, the CFPB and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are alerting nursing facilities and collectors to this potential risk. The CFPB has also issued guidelines for the law enforcement community that explain when certain practices may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Over the years, I’ve heard people in the debt collection industry and the nursing home industry say that law-abiding players who treat patients and consumers with respect and dignity are routinely put at a disadvantage by having to compete with those who engage in exploitative tactics or otherwise. break the law.
Debt collection companies are a key part of the consumer credit ecosystem, and nursing homes are a major sector of our healthcare industry. It is up to all of us to ensure that patients, their caregivers and honest businesses are protected. To assist in these efforts, we urge families to file complaints with federal and state agencies. We also ask people working in nursing homes and debt collection industries who become aware of wrongdoing by a competitor to confidentially report it to law enforcement.
We are grateful for the ongoing partnership with the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to address the range of harms associated with medical debt.
Thank you again for participating in today’s hearing, and to all those who have been involved in organizing it.