Bills on assisted living, debt collection

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The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. – Lawmakers this week will consider measures to enhance protections for assisted living residents in New Jersey to ensure they aren’t discharged simply because they pay with Medicaid.

The legislation comes in response to an investigation by the Public Advocate’s Office that found an assisted living firm wrongly showed New Jersey residents the door once they exhausted their savings and were about to go on Medicaid, despite promises to allow them to stay.

Wisconsin-based Assisted Living Concepts has eight facilities in New Jersey and more than 200 nationwide.

"It’s appalling , yet also apparently reality , that assisted living facilities would break the trust they have with elderly patients who believed investing what they had left of their life-savings would bring them quality care for years to come," said Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May Court House.

Albano, along with Assembly members Matthew W. Milam, D-Cape May Court House, Celeste Riley, D-Bridgeton, and Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, have sponsored a package of bills aimed at strengthening protections for seniors in such facilities.

The measures would urge the state health and senior services commissioner to make Medicaid-eligible residents more financially and administratively attractive to assisted living facilities; make information about assisted living facility services and options more accessible to consumers; and request the health commissioner and consumer affairs division director recommend how to use the state’s consumer fraud law to more effectively protect assisted living residents.

"We can and must do more to ensure peace of mind for elderly residents who otherwise face the threat of being tossed onto the street destitute," Albano said.

Those bills will be heard on Thursday in the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

Last week, Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a bill requiring nursing homes and assisted living residences to provide an informational sheet concerning Medicaid eligibility to certain residents

Also Thursday, the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee will consider a bill to combat harassing consumer debt collection practices.

Called "New Jersey Fair Debt Collection Practices Act," the measure would give consumers a way to dispute and verify debt information to ensure its accuracy and would set penalties for abusive debt collectors.

"This is a fairness bill for consumers, one that will ensure they’re not harassed by unscrupulous debt collectors," said sponsor John J. Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro.

The bill would prohibit, with limited exceptions, a debt collector from communicating with a debtor:

, earlier than 8 a.m. and later than 9 p.m.

, at the debtor’s place of employment. The collector may send a single letter or make one phone call per month to the debtor at the debtor’s place of employment if the debt collector has been unable to contact the debtor at home.

, if the debt collector knows the debtor is represented by an attorney and can readily ascertain that attorney’s name and address.

"We’re not looking to halt efforts to try to collect a debt," said Assemblyman Milam. "What we’re doing here is putting a stop to harassing, oppressing, intimidating and abusive conduct by those collecting debts."

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