Treasury seeks to improve patient debt collections

The U.S. Treasury Department has issued proposed rules intended to curtail abusive collections of patient debt, the department announced Friday.

The rules, which would be developed under the auspices of the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act, would give patients at least four months to obtain financial assistance before medical debt could be turned over to a collections agency or litigated, McClatchy News Service reported.

"I think it's a very helpful first step," Adam Linker, an analyst at the N.C. Health Access Coalition, told McClatchy. "Virtually all of the hospitals have financial assistance policies. All that we're asking is that they show them to patients, which doesn't seem like a lot to ask."

The Charlotte Observer recently reported that more than 40,000 residents have been sued in recent years by hospitals for delinquent bills, with few of them offered financial assistance. Various news outlets in the Midwest also have reported on the business practices of Chicago-based Accretive Health, which planted employees in area hospitals in attempts to collect medical debts, sometimes before rendering care.

"In recent months, we have heard concerns about aggressive hospital debt collection activities," Emily McMahon, the Treasury Department's acting assistant secretary for tax policy, said in a statement. "These practices jeopardize patient care, and our proposed rules will help ensure they don't happen in charitable hospitals," she said.

For more:
- here's the Treasury statement
- read the McClatchy article
- here's a Chicago Tribune article about Accretive Health
- read the Charlotte Observer article on patient lawsuits