Hospital collection firm sued for harsh practices

A major debt collector for hospitals has been harshly criticized for its practices, which may be hindering patients from seeking care and violating their privacy rights, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The company, Accretive Health, has come under fire by the Minnesota Attorney General, which has filed a lawsuit contending it has violated state and federal laws regulating debt collection and patient privacy, according to a statement from Attorney General Lori Swanson's office.

At Fairview Health Services, a nine-hospital system in Minnesota, Accretive leaned on employees to collect payments from patients in its emergency rooms--even encouraging patients to return to their cars to get their checkbooks, reported The New York Times. Those patients with prior balances were stalled at ERs until they agreed to pay up, and such practices continued even after Fairview's physicians complained they were hindering patient care.

"The Accretive culture has converted the hospital culture from that of a charitable organization to that of a collection agency,'' said a report by the attorney general's office, according to the Star Tribune. "Perhaps the most damaging act by Accretive was to undermine the basic premise that a hospital is a sanctuary to treat the sick and infirm," it said.

Swanson also asserted in the statement that Accretive had access to Fairview patient records to help with its collections, in violation of Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state laws.

Fairview dropped Accretive's contract on Tuesday, the Star Tribune reported.

Swanson indicated that Accretive's practices in Minnesota are similar in other states. "I have every reason to believe that what they are doing in Minnesota is simply company practice," she told the New York Times.

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