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Archive for Sunday, April 11, 2004

AARP criticizes nursing home inspection bill

Proposed legislation would limit use of records in lawsuits

April 11, 2004

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— A bill to ban some inspection records from being used in lawsuits against nursing homes has drawn strong opposition from AARP, which has spent thousands on newspaper ads opposing the measure.

The seniors advocacy group says the bill would make it harder to sue a facility for neglect.

Nursing home administrators, however, say they need Senate Bill 430 to help stabilize rapidly rising liability insurance premiums. Insurance underwriters and the Kansas Health Care Assn. also back the bill.

Assistant Insurance Commissioner Bob Tomlinson said insurance costs had risen more than 500 percent in the past several years. Nursing officials told lawmakers that in some instances, those costs had gone from $35 per bed four years ago to $1,000 per bed today.

The full-page ads, which urge readers to call state lawmakers, ran recently in 10 Kansas newspapers. The AARP spent more than $34,000 on the campaign, said Ernest Kutzley, the associate state director of advocacy.

"We didn't believe enough consumers in Kansas knew about the bill and what it did," Kutzley said. "We felt like people across the state should know what SB 430 would do to them."

The bill, which is not expected to pass this year, would prohibit plaintiffs' attorneys from introducing inspection records not related to the lawsuit.

The public records are kept by the Kansas Department on Aging.

Judges decide whether they are admissible in a trial, but attorneys for nursing homes say judges rarely throw them out.

Kutzley said that the AARP was not blind to the rapid rise in liability premiums and that all sides needed to work out a solution for consideration next year.

"That's probably where we're going to go," he said. "AARP is interested in bringing down the cost of nursing home care but also ensuring quality."

Similar legislation, HB 2306, already has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When that bill passed the House, it was panned by a number of senior advocacy groups, including Lawrence-based Kansas Advocates for Better Care.

"This is all part of the industry's call for a level playing field -- that it's being abused by its regulators and being held at the mercy of its residents," said Margaret Farley, a Lawrence attorney who serves on the Kansas Advocates for Better Care governing board. "But the idea that an injured resident somehow has the upper hand going up against a corporate-owned nursing home's lawyers is absolutely ludicrous."

The Kansas Trial Lawyers Assn. also criticized the industry.

"Obviously, this is an attempt on nursing homes' part to limit both their liability and the public's ability to hold them accountable," said Barb Conant, director of public affairs at the Kansas Trial Lawyers Assn.

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