Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
Seniors Legal Rights
Know Where Your Money Goes
Many charities sound worthy, with names and goals promising cures for cancer, heart disease, and other worthwhile causes.
Most charities are honest and put their charitable dollars to good use. However, Americans lose millions of dollars each year to fraudulent charitable appeals. Before you donate, get some information about how contributions are used.
Minnesota law does not require a professional fund raiser to tell you, the contributor, how much of your donation actually goes to the cause, so the burden of finding out about the charity and its work rests with you.
Legitimate charities are willing to tell you how they carry out their charitable mission. They will also tell you how much of the money they collect is used for charity and how much goes for fundraising and administration.
Some additional guidelines for smart giving include:
- Don’t judge a charity solely on its impressive sounding name.
- Ask how the charitable purpose will be accomplished.
- Ask how much of the contribution will pay fundraising and overhead costs.
- Ask if the person calling is a professional fundraiser and if so, what amount of your donation will actually go to charity.
- Ask whether your contribution is tax deductible.
- Contribute by check or credit card. Cash donations are impossible to trace and difficult for the charity to protect.
- Never provide your credit card number unless you know the charity and you call the charity yourself. Giving out a credit card number, account number or other personal information in response to an unsolicited phone call is the equivalent of giving this information to a complete stranger, and can lead to identity theft.
- Check with the Attorney General’s Office to determine if the organization is registered. Registration documents will also contain financial information about the organization.
For more information on charities, contact the Attorney General’s Charities Division, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1200, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101, or call (651) 296-3353, or 1-800-657-3787. The TTY numbers are (651) 297-7206, or 1-800-366-4812. To look at registration materials filed by charities use the Attorney General’s website at: www.ag.state.mn.us
Investments and Lending
Seniors Legal Rights
Your money is too valuable to throw away on investment scams. Here are some guidelines to help you identify and avoid fraudulent investment schemes:
- All securities, which most investments are considered to be, must be registered with the Department of Commerce. Call the Department at (651) 296-4026 to find out if an investment is registered before spending money on it.
- Persons selling securities must be licensed by the Department of Commerce. Call the Department at (651) 296-2488 or 1-800-657-3602 to find out if the seller is licensed.
- Watch out for high or guaranteed profits. All investments involve some risk.
- Understand the investment. Don’t invest in complicated schemes that the seller can’t or won’t explain to you. Watch out when a seller says, “It’s too complicated,” or tells you to, “Trust me on the details.”
- Ask for information in writing, such as prospectuses, brochures, and the corporate history. If information is not available, be wary.
- Check out the business in person if you can. Be wary if the facilities are “secret” or “confidential” or if you have a difficult time reaching the seller.
- Ask a friend, an attorney or investment professional to review the opportunity.
If you run into problems or have questions, you can call the Attorney General’s Citizen Assistance Line at (651) 296-3353 (1-800-657- 3787) or the Department of Commerce at (651) 296-2488.
Predatory and abusive lending can take many forms, but generally these lenders take advantage of people in difficult financial situations. They also look for people facing financial problems as a result of an illness, injury, or natural disaster. Predatory lenders count on consumers’ lack of financial knowledge. You should consider the following factors concerning predatory lending:
- High interest rates and fees. Loans may contain high closing costs and other hidden fees. These unreasonable fees may appear in loan origination or underwriting fees, broker fees, and transaction and closing costs. Many of these fees are negotiable. Don’t be afraid to ask your lender or broker to explain the basis for any fee that appears on your loan paperwork.
- Small monthly payments with a large balloon payment at the end of your loan period. Sometimes lenders stretch out payments so that a large unaffordable payment is left at the end. This, unfortunately, can rope consumers into yet another high interest loan to help make the final payment. Make sure and pay special attention to how payments will be made over time.
- Adjustable Rate Mortgages (“ARM”). As opposed to a fixed rate loan, the interest rate on ARMs fluctuates according to the market. Watch out for ARMs with low introductory rates. Just because you can afford mortgage payments at the present interest rate doesn’t mean that you will be able to do so if the interest rate rises.
- High loan-to-value. A loan based on home equity that exceeds the home’s actual value puts both the home and the consumer’s financial record at great risk. Make sure and be extremely careful of lenders who pressure consumers into more money than they need.
- Other charges and hidden fees. Abusive lenders may add on extra charges that seem to have the consumer’s best interest at heart, though the opposite is true. These extra costs may include “commitment fees” or high rate homeowner’s insurance. Make sure and check all of the costs associated with the loan, and do not be afraid to challenge questionable costs.
If you run into problems or have questions, you can call the Attorney General’s Citizen Assistance Line at (651) 296-3353 (1-800-657- 3787) or the Department of Commerce at (651) 296-2488.
Seniors Legal Rights
Your health is important. That’s why it’s important to understand your health care rights, know your options to make advance plans, and be able to separate the snake oil from the legitimate product or service. This chapter addresses health issues of particular concern to seniors, including: health care fraud; your rights when purchasing medical products and services; advance directives; Medicare and Medigap polices; nursing homes; and, your rights as a patient.
Medicare and Medicaid
Medicare and Medicaid assist eligible persons with health care expenses. Both programs change frequently in terms of coverage and eligibility rules, so be sure to check the resources listed below to get the most up-to-date information.
This is a federal program available to most persons 65 or older, to disabled persons under 65 who qualify for Social Security disability or Railroad Retirement disability benefits, and to certain persons with permanent kidney failure. Medicare is administered by the federal Social Security Administration and is available without regard to income or asset levels. You should apply for these benefits three months before you turn 65, to allow time for processing your application. You should apply for Medicare coverage at age 65 even if you do not plan to draw Social Security payments at that time.
Medicare is the federal government’s health insurance program for people 65 years old and older and certain younger people with disabilities. Medicare Part A covers hospital and nursing home services. Part B covers physician and other professional services. Part D covers outpatient prescription drugs. People who are entitled to Social Security benefits pay no premium to receive Part A coverage, but must pay Part A’s annual deductible and co-insurance requirements. Both Part B and Part D have monthly premiums in addition to annual deductibles and co-insurance requirements. It is important to note that is an open enrollment period of six months following the start of your enrollment in Medicare Part B. During that open enrollment period, you cannot be denied Medicare supplement insurance due to an existing health condition.
If you are in the hospital under Medicare coverage, the rates the hospital can charge will be determined through Medicare’s “DRG” system, or Diagnosis Related Groups. Under this system, hospitals have a greater financial incentive to discharge patients as early as possible. If you are in the hospital and feel you are being discharged too early, you have a right to challenge the decision. First talk to your doctor, who may agree that you should stay longer. If your doctor cannot fix the problem, and the hospital has not agreed to change its decision, call Stratis Health (formerly the Foundation for Health Care Evaluation) at (952) 854-3306 or 1-800-444-3423. This organization makes sure hospitals follow Medicare’s patient care rules.
Medicare does not cover all health care costs, and it is important to check what level of payment will be made for a particular service. There are also “Medigap” policies available which help fill in the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage.
Medicare Supplement Policies
Medigap or Medicare supplement policies can be purchased to help “fill in the gaps” to cover health care services that Medicare does not cover (such as prescription drugs). In Minnesota there are two standard Medicare supplement policies, “basic” and “extended basic.” Seven optional “riders” are available with the basic policies. As the name implies, extended basic policies are more comprehensive than basic policies.
Compare plans before you buy. Consider your health needs and the cost of the plans to make the right choice for your good health. If you don’t understand what is covered by a policy, ask questions. Protect yourself by following these guidelines:
- Get the policy’s outline of coverage. State law requires that you receive this.
- Ask the agent questions if you don’t understand the policy.
- For long-term care policies, find out: Does the policy cover both nursing home and home health care costs; how does inflation and changing market practices affect any fixed limits on per day costs; and, is the insurance company stable.
- Take time to discuss the policy with friends and relatives or your local insurance agent, if you have one. Don’t be rushed into a decision.
- Ask the agent to point out provisions in the policy to back up the agent’s claims.
- Don’t sign blank forms. Read all forms before signing them.
- Remember that under state law, you have a three-day right to cancel Medicare supplement or long-term care insurance policies.
There may be reasons why one of these policies might help you. As with other financial planning decisions, it may be helpful to consult with a financial planner or other qualified professional who does not directly benefit by your purchase of such a policy.
You can also contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to receive the guide, Medicare and You. The guide is available free of charge, in print or audio cassette format in English or in Spanish, by calling 1- 800-MEDICARE, that is 1-800-633-4227. If you run into problems or have questions, you can call the Attorney General’s Citizen Assistance Line at (651) 296-3353 (1-800-657-3787) or the Department of Commerce, Enforcement and Licensing Division at (651) 296-2488.
Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Benefit
On January 1, 2006 a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare, known as Part D, became available for people enrolled in Medicare. The drug benefit is offered through two types of private health plans: 1) stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans (“PDPs”) that supplement the original Medicare plan; or 2) Medicare Advantage (Medicare’s version of managed care) plans that provide drug coverage and other Medicare-covered benefits.
Importantly, while Medicare requires all plans to offer certain types of drugs, Medicare does not require that all plans offer the same drug formulary. This means that before you sign up for a plan, you should make sure that the plan’s formulary covers your drugs in the dosage that you need.
Part D plan benefits and cost structures vary widely. All Part D plans must offer either the standard benefit or a benefit of equal value, and plans may also provide enhanced benefit options for a higher monthly premium. In 2007 the standard benefit requires enrollees to pay: a monthly premium set by the plan; a $265 deductible; 25% cost-sharing up to the initial coverage limit of $2,400; 100% of drug costs until their out-of-pocket spending reaches $3,850 (this is known as the “doughnut hole” gap in coverage); and 5% of their drug costs thereafter. Certain low-income beneficiaries are eligible to receive assistance with their Part D costs.
Additional information and assistance with Medicare Part D is available online, at www.medicare.gov, or by calling 1-800- MEDICARE. You may also contact the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433 for assistance with Medicare Part D.
Medicare Supplemental Programs
DHS administers several programs for Medicare enrollees that can help with Medicare costs: Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (“QMB”), Service Limited Medicare Beneficiary (“SLMB”), Qualified Individuals (“QI”), and Qualified Working Disabled (“QWD”).
QMB pays your Medicare premiums, deductibles, co-insurance and co-payments. To qualify, you must: 1) be enrolled in or eligible to enroll in Medicare; 2) have no more than $10,000 total countable assets for a single person or $18,000 for two people; and 3)have monthly income of no more than $837 for a single person, $1,121 for a family of two, or $1,405 for a family of three.
SLMB pays your Medicare Part B premium. To qualify, you: 1) must be enrolled in or eligible to enroll in Medicare; 2) have no more than $10,000 total countable assets for a single person or $18,000 for two people; and 3) have monthly income of no more than $1,000 for a single person, $1,340 for a family of 2, or $1,680 for a family of three.
QI also pays for Medicare Part B premiums. To qualify, you: 1) must be enrolled in or eligible to enroll in Medicare; 2) have no more than $10,000 total countable assets for a single person or $18,000 for two people; and 3) have monthly income of no more than $1,123 for a single person, $1,506 for a family of 2, or $1,889 for a family of three.
QWD pays your Medicare Part A premium if you are not eligible for premium free Part A and you meet income and asset limits. Assets may not exceed $4,000 for a single person or $6,000 for two people. Monthly income may not exceed $1,654 for a single person, $2,221 for a family of two, or $2,788 for a family of three.
Contact the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433 or your local county human service agency for more information.
Medicaid (Medical Assistance)
In Minnesota, Medicaid is known as the Medical Assistance program, or “MA.” MA is funded jointly by federal, state and local government. It pays for all, or nearly all, medical expenses for eligible individuals. Covered services include hospital, nursing home and home health care services, doctor and dental services, prescription drugs and eyeglasses. MA is administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, through the local county human services agencies. Eligibility for MA is based on income and assets of the individual or couple (or family, if there are children 18 years of age or younger).
It is important for you to apply for MA as soon as possible if you are in need of assistance. To apply, or to get information, call your county human services agency. You can apply even if you’re not sure you are eligible. You may be eligible to have part of your medical bills covered even if your income is over the monthly allowable limit. MA can pay for medical expenses you incur up to three months before your eligibility is approved. (You must be told why you are not eligible if you are denied MA coverage.)
Certain transfers of property (such as giving land, property or other assets to your children) may make you or your spouse ineligible for MA for an extended period of time, so consult a reliable professional or your county human services agency before making any such transfers. Also, you may be eligible to keep more of your assets (or transfer more to your spouse) than you expect, so check eligibility guidelines before you allow your assets to get too low. Home health care funding (such as Alternative Care grants) and other types of assistance are available to help you stay at home rather than go to a nursing home, if you qualify. Check with your county human services agency to find out what is available.
Watch out for Insurance Scams
Protect yourself by knowing the signs of a scam. Disreputable agents often use tactics like this:
- Urge you to sign up and pay immediately.
- Respond incompletely to your questions.
- Tell you the policy “covers everything” (no Medicare supplement policy covers everything).
- Do not include your pre-existing medical conditions on your application, voiding your policy.
Seniors Legal Rights
In the past few years, many prescription drug companies have formed business relationships with pharmacy groups and insurance companies that handle drug-benefit plans. In some cases, pharmacies and insurers receive rebates or other financial incentives when they convince a plan member to switch to a different drug. If you are uncomfortable switching medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist. Ask the following questions:
- Will the new drug work as well for my condition?
- What are the side effects or risks?
- Are the dose levels the same?
- Is there a business connection between the pharmacist and the drug manufacturer?
- Will the switch save me money, or benefit my health care plan, or both?
The cost of prescription drugs can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly for people on fixed incomes. You need to take care of your health, but you also need to manage your budget.
Prescription drug costs can vary greatly from one source to another. Pharmaceutical manufacturers negotiate prices with purchasers of drugs; so varying levels of discounts are given to large and small purchasers. Discounts are generally greater for large-volume purchasers such as hospitals, employers or managed care companies. Smaller-volume purchasers, such as individuals, may not have access to such discounts. But there are some things you can do to help reduce your out-of-pocket expenditures for prescription drugs:
- Ask your doctor if there is a generic equivalent of the same drug that would be appropriate to treat your health condition.
- Comparison shop. As with any purchase, shop for the best price possible.
- If you have health insurance with prescription drug benefits, make sure you understand what your plan covers. For example, does it include or exclude the drug that has been prescribed for you?
- Ask your provider if you qualify for any discounts or free medication from pharmaceutical companies. If you are a veteran, contact the Veteran’s Affairs Office in your area to find out if you qualify for discounts on prescription drugs.
- Ask your doctor how long you will have to take the prescribed medication and in what dosage so that you don’t have to buy more than you need. If you need to take a drug for a greater length of time, check to see if you can buy the drug in a bulk quantity.
- Understand and follow the directions for taking your medications precisely to make sure they’re used most effectively for you and to reduce the risk of side effects. Avoid potential health problems by informing your doctor and pharmacist of any other drugs you take which may interact with the prescribed medication. Don’t discontinue or change the dosage of your medication without your physician’s approval.
- If you do not have Medigap or other insurance coverage for prescription drugs, you may qualify for the Senior Drug Program which can help pay for prescription drugs. Contact the RxConnect/Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800- 333-2433 for assistance in determining whether you may qualify for free or discounted prescription drugs through a drug manufacturer patient assistance program. People of all ages may apply for patient assistance programs, but each program is different and most have income and/or asset guidelines.
More than 24 million Americans have some type of hearing impairment. Many people can benefit from a hearing aid, but not everyone. How will you know? The process begins with a careful fitting by a qualified audiologist or seller. In Minnesota, a written prescription or recommendation from a physician or audiologist is required before a hearing aid dispenser can sell you a hearing aid. And, the seller must be certified by the Commissioner of Health.
Hearing aid sellers are prohibited by law from using false advertising claims, deceptive business practices or misrepresenting products or services. All hearing aid contracts must be in plain language.
If you buy a hearing aid, you are entitled to a 45-day money-back guarantee. If you decide to cancel your purchase for any reason, you must do so in writing. The hearing aid seller must then refund 90 percent of the purchase price within 30 days after receiving your written notice to cancel. (The seller may retain 10 percent of the total purchase price as a cancellation fee.)
If your hearing aid needs to be repaired or adjusted during this 45-day money-back guarantee period, the 45-day period must be extended one day for each 24-hour period that the hearing aid is not in your possession. When you are notified that the repaired hearing aid is available, you must claim it within three working days, after which time the 45- day period will resume.
If you are buying a hearing aid, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out what guarantees come with the instrument and where you can receive service or repair if you need it. And, as with any consumer purchase, don’t be pressured into buying a particular hearing aid. Read the purchase agreement thoroughly before you sign it.
Health Care Directives
Minnesota law allows you to inform others of your health care wishes. A health care directive is a written document that lets others know your wishes regarding your health care. It allows you to name a person (or “agent”) to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Anyone 18 or older can make a health care directive. A health care directive is important if your doctor determines you cannot make or communicate your health care decisions (usually due to an impairment). The directive guides your doctor, family and friends regarding the care you would wish, at a time when you are not able to provide such information. You do not have to create a health care directive, and you will still receive medical care without one. But, a health care directive will help you get the care you would like.
There are forms that you can use to draft a health care directive. Ask your doctor, attorney or the Minnesota Board on Aging for a form. You can use a set form or create your own directive, but your directive must follow these requirements to be considered legal:
- Be in writing and dated.
- Contain your name.
- Be signed by you or someone you authorize to sign for you, and signed at a time when you can understand and communicate your health care wishes.
- Have your signature verified by a notary public or two witnesses.
- • Include the appointment of an agent to make health care decisions for you and/or instructions about the health care choices you wish to make. Before preparing your directive, you may wish to speak with your doctor or other health care provider. Your health care directive may contain many items, including:
- The person you trust as your agent to make health care decisions for you. You can name alternate agents in case the first agent is unavailable, or even assign joint agents.
- Your goals, values and preferences about health care.
- The types of medical treatment you would want (or not want).
- How you want your agent or agents to make decisions.
- Where you want to receive care.
- Instructions about artificial nutrition and hydration.
- Mental health treatments that use electroshock therapy or neuroleptic medications.
- Instructions if you are pregnant.
- Donation of organs, tissues and eyes.
- Funeral arrangements.
- Who you would like as your guardian or conservator if there is a court action.
Remember - you may be as specific or general as you wish.
There are a few limits to your health care directive, including:
- Your agent must be at least 18 years of age.
- Your agent cannot be your health care provider, unless the health care provider is a family member or you give reasons why your agent is your health care provider.
- You cannot request health care treatment that is outside of reasonable medical practice.
- You cannot request assisted suicide. Your health care directive lasts until you change or cancel it. If you wish to cancel it, you may do one of the following:
- Write a statement saying you want to cancel it.
- Destroy it.
- Tell at least two people that you wish to cancel it.
- Write a new health care directive.
Your health care provider must follow your health care directive, or any instructions from your agent, as long as the health care follows reasonable medical practice. But, you or your agent cannot request treatment that will not help you or which your provider cannot provide. If the provider cannot follow your agent’s directions about life-sustaining treatment, the provider must inform the agent. The provider must also document the notice in your medical record. The provider must allow the agent to arrange to transfer you to another provider who can follow the agents directions.
In August 1998 state law changed to allow people to create one form for all of their health care instructions. Living wills, durable powers of attorney and mental health declarations created before August 1998 are still legal if they followed the law in effect when they were written or conform to the new law.
Additional information including a sample health care directive form is available in our publication Probate and Planning: A Guide to Planning for the Future. You can get a free copy by contacting the Minnesota Attorney Generals Office.
Nursing Home Care
Nursing Home Admission Contracts
State law requires nursing homes to provide their residents with important information in writing. The Nursing Home Admission Contracts Act prohibits nursing homes from waiving their liabilities and requires that admission contracts be easy to read and understand.
The admission contract (also known as an admission agreement) sets forth the terms and conditions of the residents stay at the nursing home. The Nursing Home Admission Contracts Act encourages a nursing home residents independence and autonomy by requiring that the resident personally sign the admission contract unless he or she is unable to do so. If the resident is incapable of signing the agreement, a family member or guardian may sign.
Nursing homes may not require a relative, other than a financially responsible spouse, to be financially responsible for the resident. A family member who wishes to agree to be financially responsible for the resident may do so. Although such a financial commitment is not required, a person who agrees to be a "responsible party" must ensure that an application for Medical Assistance is submitted and that payments due the nursing home are made.
In the past, some nursing homes have required that residents sign a statement waiving all of the nursing home's liability for loss of personal property and other loss. These waivers are now prohibited by law. Nursing homes must take responsibility to assure you that your personal belongings will be safe.
Admission contracts must state that all contract terms must be in writing. Oral agreements between the resident (or resident's family) and the nursing home will not be considered part of the contract and are not binding on either the nursing home or the resident. If a nursing home promises to do something, have it put in writing. You must be given a copy of the contract when it is completed.
Admission contracts also must inform residents that they have the right to refuse any treatment that they do not want. The contract may require the resident to agree to routine, day-to-day or emergency care, but the nursing home must receive consent from the resident for all other types of care.
The admission contract also must state whether the nursing home participates in the Medicare, Medical Assistance or Veterans Administration programs. If the nursing home's participation in one of these programs is limited, that too must be specified. This information is important because it may affect how much you pay for your care.
Nursing home residents receiving Medical Assistance have additional protections. Occasionally, a nursing home resident will use his or her own funds to pay the nursing home while waiting for Medical Assistance eligibility to be established. Once eligibility is determined, this law requires the nursing home to bill Medical Assistance for reimbursement. The nursing home must then pay back to the resident the amount collected. In addition, a nursing home which participates in Medical Assistance will not be allowed to charge for the date of the resident’s discharge, or any subsequent days. This is true for private paying residents as well as those persons who have their care paid by Medical Assistance.
If you have questions about the Nursing Home Admission Contracts Act, or would like any additional information, contact the Board on Aging Ombudsman at (651) 431-2555 or 1800-657-3591.
Nursing Home Rates
In Minnesota, most — but not all — nursing homes participate in the Medicare and MA programs, and are qualified to accept payments from those programs. All homes which participate in MA have their rates established by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (Medicare rates, however, are set according to federal law). Minnesota law prohibits nursing homes that participate in the MA program from charging more to their private pay residents than the rates paid by MA for similar care (except for private rooms). This law, known as the Equalization Law, also prohibits those homes from requiring residents to purchase special services from the home. Nursing homes that violate these provisions may be subject to legal action.
For additional information concerning nursing home rates, contact the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Ombudsman for Long-Term Care or the Advocacy Center for Long-Term Care (listed at the end of this handbook).
Patients Bill of Rights
If you are a patient at a hospital, a resident of a nursing home, boarding care home, or in an adult foster care program in Minnesota, the Patients’ Bill of Rights protects your civil and religious liberties, including independent personal decision-making and the knowledge of available choices. The law also specifies that the facility must advise you of these rights in writing when you are admitted. The facility must also make a written statement of these rights available to you at your request.
These rights include the following:
- To be treated with courtesy and respect.
- To receive appropriate medical and personal care, based on individual needs.
- To be informed of the name, business address, telephone number and specialty of the doctor coordinating your care.
- To know the identity of individuals or businesses who provide services to you and from whom you buy or rent goods or services that are not included in the daily rate.
- To receive an understandable explanation of your treatment alternatives, risks, and prognosis (if it is medically inadvisable to give this information to you, it shall be given to another person you have previously designated).
- To participate in planning your health care.
- To be cared for with reasonable regularity and continuity of staff as far as facility policy allows.
- To refuse treatment, medications or dietary restrictions.
- To be free from mental and physical abuse, and financial exploitation.
- To respectfulness and privacy as it relates to your medical and personal care.
- To receive confidential treatment of personal and medical records
- To receive information about the daily room rate and other services available at the facility.
- To voice grievances and recommend policy changes.
- To associate and communicate privately and to have private telephone calls and mail.
- To retain and use your personal clothing and possessions as space permits, unless to do so would infringe on the rights of others or be harmful to you.
- To manage your own finances.
- To organize, maintain, and participate in resident advisory councils.
- To not be arbitrarily transferred or discharged.
Home Care Bill of Rights
The Home Care Bill of Rights is similar to the Patients’ Bill of Rights and applies to people who receive home health services in Minnesota.
Some rights provided by law if you receive home health services are the following:
- To choose freely among available providers and to change providers (within the limits of your health insurance or government health care program).
- To know in advance what charges you may have to pay and whether services will be covered by insurance.
- To know there may be other available home care services and providers in your community, and how to get information about them.
- To have reasonable advance notice of changes in service or charges.
- To a coordinated transfer when there will be a change in the provider of services.
Providers that violate patients’ rights or home care recipients’ rights may have action taken against them by the Minnesota Department of Health. You may contact the Office of Health Facility Complaints of the Minnesota Department of Health, (651) 201-4201, for more information or to file a complaint. You may also bring private legal action to enforce these rights.
Schemes and Scams
Seniors Legal Rights
So-called “sure-cures” for medical problems steal millions of dollars from seniors each year. These fake cures also keep thousands of people from pursuing appropriate medical treatment or result in delays in obtaining valid, often necessary, treatment. Newspaper and magazine ads often make fabulous claims about a “product,” use official-sounding titles and contain testimonials from many “satisfied customers.” Today’s health care quacks try to convince you they’ve discovered new solutions to age-old problems. They hint that the federal government is keeping needy people from a product that has cured thousands in other countries. Don’t let them fool you. Outrageous claims should raise a red flag, alerting you that the claims being made are highly questionable.
Protect yourself by taking the following precautions:
- Don’t trust your health to a salesperson or advertisement.
- Don’t believe claims of a “secret cure” or “miracle drug” that works on a wide variety of ailments.
- Be leery of advertisements with “testimonials” from persons identified only by initials and a snapshot. Often, these people exist only in the mind of the promoter.
- Be wary of 30-minute infomercials (advertisements imitating a news program) extolling the virtues of a certain “medical” product.
- Don’t believe unrealistic claims of excessive or immediate weight loss or recaptured youth.
- Don’t buy medical devices, bracelets or other products promoted as cures without consulting your doctor or an appropriate health association first.
- Don’t buy any product based on the seller’s claim that the purchase will be covered by Medicare or other insurance without first checking with your insurance carrier yourself.
- Remember, Minnesota law gives you three days in which to change your mind and cancel a contract with a door-to-door seller.
Always discuss your medical problems with your physician. If you can’t get the help or information you need, ask for a second opinion or switch doctors — don’t start buying cures through the mail or on the Internet. You will almost always be disappointed — and poorer.
Medical Alert Systems (Personal Emergency Response System)
Medical Alert Systems or Personal Emergency Response Systems (“PERS”) are heavily marketed to seniors. A medical alert system summons help in an emergency, such as a fall or a heart attack, when the user cannot make a phone call. As sales of these devices grow, consumers should watch out for salespeople using scare tactics to sell the units at high prices. If you are interested in this type of system, consider renting one instead of buying. Many local hospitals rent this service at reasonable rates.
Watch out for come-ons like these:
- You may see a television commercial for a medical alert system. The commercial instructs viewers to call a 1-800 number for information.
- You receive an unsolicited visit from a medical alert system salesperson.
- You are strongly discouraged from talking to others. A salesperson may hound you, asking, “Can’t you make your own decisions?”
- You will endure very long sales calls. If the salesperson is reluctant to provide information except through an in-home visit, you may want to consider doing business with another company. In-home sales visits can be high pressure, and the salesperson may urge you to buy before you are ready to make a decision.
- The salesperson may tell you, “This offer is only good today.”
- You will be offered contracts with long-term obligations totaling thousands of dollars.
To help you shop for an alert system that meets your needs, consider the following suggestions:
- Check out several systems before making a decision.
- Find out if you can use the system with other response centers. For example, can you use the same system if you move?
- Ask about the pricing, features, and servicing of each system and compare costs.
- Make sure the system is easy to use.
- Ask about the repair policy. Find out how to arrange for a replacement or repair if needed.
- Test the system to make sure it works from every point in and around your home. Make sure nothing interferes with transmissions.
- Read your purchase, rental, or lease agreement carefully before signing, watch for cancellation fees or other additional charges.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the company.
Ask questions about the response center:
- Is the monitoring center available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
- What is the average response time?
- What kind of training does the center staff receive?
- What procedures does the center use to test systems in your home? How often are tests conducted?
Local hospitals and businesses provide personal medical alert systems less expensively on a month-to-month basis. Consult with family, a friend or other trusted figure before purchasing this service.
Many unconventional treatments for cancer and other diseases are on the market. A few have undergone scientific testing. Many tests are inconclusive. Still, some forms of alternative therapy are recognized as helpful in caring for patients and helping them cope with some illnesses.
Usually, a primary care physician is the best source of information about alternative medicine as a supplement to conventional treatments. If someone tries to sell you an alternative treatment by promising that it is effective, be sure to do your own research and talk to your doctor about the alternative treatment.
Cataracts are a normal part of aging. If your doctor tells you that you have a cataract, ask whether you need surgery right away, what your risks are based on your general health, and what type of surgery may be appropriate for you, should you choose it.
Be cautious if you are considering any promotion promising completely successful, risk-free cataract surgery. Cataract surgery has a very high success rate, but no surgery is free from risk. Serious complications are rare, but they do occur, and could result in loss of vision.