How Can You Steal From Our Most Vulnerable Citizens? — FTC: Nursing Homes Are Stealing in a COVID-19 World
As if the news couldn’t get any worse, the following headline appeared on CNN’s Web site recently: “Some nursing homes are taking residents’ stimulus checks, FTC warns.”
Really? Institutes of care ripping off the elderly? According to the Federal Trade Commission, yes.
“The Federal Trade Commission reported that nursing homes in several states are requesting residents sign over their stimulus checks,” the CNN article states. “The facilities may say they get to keep the payment if a patient is on Medicaid, which isn’t true, said Lois Greisman, the FTC’s Elder Justice Coordinator. Here’s why: The stimulus checks are considered tax credits per the CARES Act, which is providing economic relief to people and businesses. Those tax credits don’t count as “resources” for federal benefit programs like Medicaid, so the government cannot claim them, and neither can the nursing homes.”
“Stimulus check scams appeared before the first check was even issued,” the CNN article states. “Since March, phony websites, texts, emails and robocalls asked people for their personal or financial information to receive their checks, claiming to work for the federal government. Some links may contain malware that can steal the user’s private information so scammers could claim their checks.”
Greisman also suggested that victims and their families confront the facility directly “to make sure they know which side of the law to be on.”
“This is not just a horror story making the rounds,” she said in a blog titled “Did a nursing home or assisted living facility take your stimulus check?” “These are actual reports that our friends in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have been getting – and handling. Other states have seen the same.”
Here is the text from the federal tax law pertaining to the stimulus checks: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any refund (or advance payment with respect to a refundable credit) made to any individual under this title shall not be taken into account as income, and shall not be taken into account as resources for a period of 12 months from receipt, for purposes of determining the eligibility of such individual (or any other individual) for benefits or assistance (or the amount or extent of benefits or assistance) under any Federal program or under any State or local program financed in whole or in part with Federal funds.”
Further, here is the Congressional Research Service’s summary of the stimulus checks: “As with any tax credit, these payments do not count as income or resources for a 12-month period in determining eligibility for, or the amount of assistance provided by, any federally funded public benefit program. In addition, these payments are not taxable.”
In another blog aimed at businesses titled “Nursing homes and assisted living facilities: Hands off residents’ stimulus checks,” Greisman delivered a more exacting tone.
“If you have clients who operate nursing homes or assisted living residences, a word of advice from you now can save them from making a serious misstep,” she said. “We’ve heard that some facilities are requiring residents on Medicaid to sign over their stimulus payments to the facility. That contradicts the CARES Act, so you’ll be doing your clients a favor by cautioning them against that practice…. This isn’t just an arcane hypothetical someone has dreamed up. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office and other State AGs have received boots-on-the-ground reports this is happening. If you learn that your clients have adopted this practice, encourage them to stop it immediately and give the money back to residents.”
According to the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, the stimulus checks are to be handled like any other benefit check a nursing-home resident receives.
“For any resident who may receive a stimulus check, Medicaid eligibility is protected and Medicare coverage is protected,” the organizations told MarketWatch in an article titled “Can a nursing home take my stimulus money?” “Nursing facilities will not receive any additional private payments. Pre-COVID patient and resident income and asset protections remain in place for the stimulus payments.”
The National Center on Law and Elder Rights told MarketWatch that residents should continue to pay their fees to the nursing home as they have in the past and keep the IRS proceeds for personal use.
“In general, a resident can spend the stimulus money as they wish, including gifts and charitable contributions,” the center said. “This is the resident’s money to spend on their wants and needs.”