For many Americans over age 50, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a trusted source for services and support to improve their quality of life as they age. But last fall, the non-profit that aims to protect seniors was hit with a class action lawsuit claiming the organization is financially abusing elders by taking kickbacks from UnitedHealth insurance for selling AARP-branded health insurance plans, overcharging members in the process and violating California insurance and business laws.
Earlier in the year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a related lawsuit to proceed, saying the plaintiff had made a plausible claim that royalty payments collected by AARP were in fact commissions, reversing a lower court’s order dismissing the case.
As the country’s population ages, this and other types of elder abuse are likely to become increasingly common. The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 40.3 million people age 65 and older, the greatest number in census history. This older population is projected to more than double to 83.7 million by 2050 as the “Boomer Generation” ages.
Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical, psychological and financial abuse or exploitation, such as in the alleged AARP case. But according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, statistics on the prevalence of elder abuse and the most common types of abuse are not readily available, due in large part to the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of elder abuse. This makes it difficult to collect information to measure the occurrence and magnitude of elder abuse nationally; compare the problem across states, counties and cities; and establish trends and patterns.
Studies have found, however, that the most frequently reported types of mistreatment are verbal, physical, and financial. Data from state Adult Protective Services agencies also show that, while there is an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse, it remains underreported. The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.
While a consistent national definition may be lacking, individual states have laws and agencies dedicated to preventing elder abuse and financial exploitation. In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the Adult Protective Services Act (APS) are the primary laws protecting vulnerable adults. The APS was passed in 1993 to protect the safety and well being of the elderly and other adults with disabilities living in the community who are in danger of being mistreated or neglected.
The New Jersey law considers abuse “the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, unreasonable confinement, or the willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain a person's physical and mental health.” It also defines neglect and exploitation, and protects anyone 18 years of age or older who resides in a community setting and lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make, communicate or carry out decisions concerning his or her well-being.
Adult Protective Services agencies have been established in every county to receive and investigate reports of adult abuse, exploitation and neglect (you can find the nearest agency with a simple Google search.) While reporting elder abuse is considered voluntary in New Jersey, the law was amended in 2010 to require professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians to report suspected abuse to the county APS office.
When a report is received, an APS investigation will be initiated within 72 hours. Every effort is made to determine the competence of and potential risk to the person, and individuals or agencies that have knowledge of the situation may be consulted. If the individual is found to be at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation, the agency will take action to safeguard their welfare until a protective environment and support system can be put in place.
Deciding whether or not to report suspected elder abuse can be difficult, and navigating your community’s protective services system can be complicated. If you have questions or need expert advice or counsel, contact us at 973-509-8500 x213 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances