Supporting Indigent Parents
In our Winter 2011 issue we discussed a 1994 case where a child was ordered to pay $125 per month to the child’s parent’s health care provider, under Pennsylvania’s “Support of the Indigent” law. That statute has again been in the news in the case of Health Care and Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, where the impact of the law was much more serious. In that case, the Superior Court affirmed an arbitrator’s decision to the effect that a son was to pay his mother’s nursing home bill of $92,943.21. The stakes involved in falling afoul of this statue are obviously quite high.
Generally, the Support of the Indigent law requires that the child of an indigent individual has the responsibility “to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent person” (i.e. the parent) provided that the child has sufficient financial ability to do so. The creditor has the burden of proving that the parent is in fact indigent and that the child has the financial ability to support the parent. It is up to the local county court to determine exactly what the child’s liability should be. In the case of medical care for the aged other than public nursing home care, there is a limit on what the child can be forced to pay but that limit is equal to the lesser of the cost of the medical assistance or six times what can generally be termed as the child’s excess income (income over and above what it takes to support the child and the child’s other dependents). Even after application of this limit, the child’s obligation to health care providers can be quite serious.