Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Patients signing away right to sue nursing homes

A legal wrangle is underway regarding whether nursing homes should be allowed to include an "optional" arbitration agreement on their admission forms.

The industry emphasizes the "optional" side of such agreements. Whether they're presented as "optional" during the stressful admissions process, of course, is another bag o' chips entirely.

University of Kansas professor Stephen Ware is arguing to keep the arbitration clause, on the grounds that it can mean greater access to justice for patients who can't afford lawyers, and lower costs for other patients. He also maintains that courts can - and have - thrown out arbitration clauses when legal disputes arose.

We're a lawsuit-happy country. Too many individuals use lawsuits, not as an instrument of social justice, but as a means of profiting off of tragedy. To the extent that arbitration limits outrageous cash judgments to plaintiffs, it's good. But I suspect, on the whole, that its true effect is to weaken corrective action against a for-profit business. Arbitration is little more than a rigged game that gives the care provider a chance to bully the plaintiff into a resolution that furthers its interests, not the patients'.

Yet another reason why health care - for the elderly or anyone else - ought not to be a for-profit enterprise.

Kudos to Republican Sen. Mel Martinez for backing the anti-arbitration legislation.