Accretive Health Inc. Faces More Scrutiny over Debt Collection Practices

Accretive Health Inc. Faces More Scrutiny over Debt Collection PracticesAccretive Health Inc., the medical debt collector under fire for its heavy handed tactics, will take center stage today at a U.S. Senate field hearing to discuss the adequacy of federal laws that are supposed to protect patients’ access to care and privacy.  The hearing, which is being convened by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is scheduled to begin today at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Accretive Health is the largest collector of medical debt in the U.S. Last month, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson issued a report slamming some of the tactics Accretive uses to collect debt and payments on behalf of its client hospitals. The report sparked serious concerns that Accretive’s tactics might have violated state and federal privacy laws, as well as debt collection laws.  Among other things, Swanson described how Accretive debt collectors approach patients in hospital emergency rooms or at their bedsides and demand that they pay outstanding bills or make point of service payments at that time. According to the report, the Accretive representatives “may discourage them (patients) from seeking emergency care at all, even using scripts like those in collection boiler room.”

In January, Swanson filed suit against Accretive, after a laptop containing information on more than 23,000 patients was stolen from the company. The lawsuit challenged Accretive’s work with Minnesota-based Fairview Health Services and North Memorial Health Care, which has since terminated its contract with the company.

Senator Franken’s hearing will be open to the public and will feature four panel discussiona.  Minnesota Attorney General Swanson will sit on the first panel. According to a report from the Associated Press, executives from Accretive Health and Fairview Health Services are slated to testify. Two patients and a nurse are also expected to relay their personal stories.

According to a press release issued yesterday by the Minnesota Nurses Association, Jean Ross, a Minnesota grandmother, will testify about an experience her family had with Accretive debt collectors when her 13-month-old her grandson was being treated at Fairview Ridges Hospital.  The little boy had been rushed to the emergency room with what turned out to be encephalitis.  The release relates how Ross, who had stepped out of the child’s room for a few minutes, returned to find her daughter weeping, shaking and unable to control herself.

“I was sure the doctor had stepped into the room while I was out taking a bathroom break and delivered devastating news about my grandson,” said Ross, a leader of a national nurse’s union group, in the news release. “My daughter explained to me that while I was gone, a woman had slipped into the room and asked her if she wanted to pay all or a portion of her bill right now.”

Ross calls the incident inexcusable, pointing out that her daughter did not “need to be harassed by a debt collector when she was a nervous wreck worrying about her 13-month-old son inside the ER.”

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