Hospital collection firm fined, banned from state

Chicago-based Accretive Health has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle charges with the Minnesota Attorney General that it pressured patients to pay for care prior to its delivery, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Accretive also will wind down operations in Minnesota within the next 90 days. The debt collector it is barred from doing business in the state for the next two years, and will need legal permission to reenter the Minnesota market for four years after that, according to the New York Times.

"A hospital emergency room is a place of medical trauma and emotional suffering for patients and their families. It should be a solemn place, not a place for a financial shakedown of patients," State Attorney General Lori Swanson told the Tribune.

Although Accretive repeatedly asserted it had engaged in legal practices, the settlement was announced just a couple of weeks after Swanson's office released a lengthy accounting of patients and family members claiming to have been pressured by Accretive employees to pay up. In one instance, a patient was pressured to produce her credit card as she was laying on a gurney after suffering a stroke.

"Even though we believe the claims against us were either baseless or exaggerated, we have used this opportunity to carefully examine our own practices in order to ensure we are setting the very highest standards for our own performance and achieving the best possible outcomes for hospitals, patients and communities," Accretive CEO Mary Tolan said Monday in a statement. "Entering into this settlement ... allows our company to put this matter behind us and prevents further distraction from the important work that we do for our hospital clients."

Swanson's office had asserted the publicly-traded firm was taking part in overly aggressive collection tactics at hospitals operated by Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services. It said employees were placed at Fairview facilities posing as hospital employees and pressuring patients and their families to pay for care.

Fairview employees also were pressured to use special software to track patient accounts and ensure they were asked for payments upfront, according to investigators.

Accretive said it did not expect the settlement to have any adverse effect on its operations--the firm has more than $200 million in cash on hand, the Tribune reported.

To learn more:
- read the Chicago Tribune article
- here's the New York Times article
- read Accretive's statement