Health Collector Pays $2.5 Million, Banned from State
Accretive Health, a national health debt collector, has agreed to pay Minnesota $2.5 million to settle accusations it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care regardless of the patients’ ability to pay. In an unusual move, the company was also barred from contracting with Minnesota hospitals for two years and must have the attorney general’s permission to do business in the state for four years after that. Accretive has not admitted wrongdoing, according to Minneapolis StarTribune.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said it may be unprecedented in Minnesota for a publicly traded company the size of Accretive to get thrown out. But the harsh action was justified by the severity of the case, she said.
Swanson accused the company of embedding debt collectors in emergency departments (ED) and pressuring patients to pay before receiving treatment at Twin City hospitals. She disclosed internal documents outlining aggressive collection tactics. Patient affidavits describe being approached while in treatment in EDs by debt collectors who demanded money while the patients were being treated for such things as strokes, excessive hemorrhaging, miscarriages, and injuries. In other cases, patients awaiting surgery were asked to pay co-pays well above what their payers required. Of the 60 patients who provided affidavits, 58 had “good insurance,” she said, when announcing the terms resulting from a six-month investigation.
The investigation grew out of the loss of an Accretive laptop with more than 23,000 patient records on it. The incident triggered a broader investigation of Accretive’s business practices, and led to a blistering report in April about heavy-handed debt-collection tactics, including pressure on patients to pay before they got treatment, according to the StarTribune.
Swanson said facilities often hire outside collections companies, of which Accretive is one of the largest, and are letting those companies take a larger roll in the management of scheduling and patient admission departments, according to The New York Times.
Accretive Health emails and internal training manuals, which came to light through the investigation, revealed that some Accretive employees were told to hound patients to pay outstanding bills and sometimes discouraged them from receiving care. The company fostered a pressurized collection environment, according to interviews with current and former employees. Those employees who fell behind collection quotas were threatened with termination.
In some instances, the employees had access to a trove of confidential patient records, which they might have used while persuading patients to pay their overdue bills, a potential violation of federal privacy laws. Under the terms of the settlement, Accretive Health will be required to turn over all of the Minnesota patients’ data that it has collected, The Times said.