Patients in Minnesota and possibly other hospitals have been greeted with the unpleasant sight of bill collectors seeking payments for medical services.
The unethical and possibly illegal practice belongs to one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debts, Chicago-based Accretive Health
, according to Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. Accretive is registered in the state as a debt-collection agency, but has also taken over administrative and billing tasks at some hospitals, which allowed the company to place its employees in venues not normally accessible to debt collectors.
Accretive stands accused of posing debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms who in some cases demanded payments before patients received treatment.
The workers may also have broken federal laws by accessing patients’ health records and by not clearly identifying themselves as debt collectors.
The attorney general’s report characterized Accretive’s practices as “a high-pressure boiler-room-style sales atmosphere” that are “in conflict with the purpose of a charitable health-care organization.” Some hospital employees enthusiastically supported Accretive’s aggressive tactics. Jena Anderberg of Fairview hospital wrote in an email to Accretive managers, “We need to get cracking on labor and delivery. There is a good chunk to be collected there.”
Accretive Health works with hospitals in Minnesota, Michigan and Utah.
Swanson has not yet filed charges against Accretive, but is talking to state and federal regulators “about a coordinated response to Accretive Health’s practices across the country,” wrote Jessica Silvver-Greenberg of the The New York Times. -Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
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