Health care union: Debt collector's work affects contract negotiations

Lori Swanson
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, seen here in a file photo, released a report this week alleging that Accretive Health had access to far too much information on patients, including diagnoses and medical history.
Derek Montgomery for MPR, file

The state attorney general's investigation of a hospital debt collector is affecting union contract negotiations at two Twin Cities hospital systems, union leaders said Thursday.

About 1,500 Service Employees International Union members work at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and Fairview Health Services in the Twin Cities. Both hospital systems had hired Chicago-based Accretive Health to collect payments from patients and perform other tasks related to registration and billing.

Attorney General Lori Swanson's report released this week alleges that Accretive Health had access to far too much information on patients, including diagnoses and medical history.

Tee McClenty, executive vice president for the SEIU's health care unit says many union employees and their families seek care at the hospitals. She said workers are concerned about how their information is being used.

"We have some concerns about our members' information getting out, and we have some concerns about what the employer discloses to a third party," McClenty said. "So we did some information requests and asked for some additional information on Accretive and how that affects our members and their families."

The union is currently negotiating a new contract with both hospitals after the previous contract expired Feb. 28.

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McClenty said union workers are voicing their concerns but so far have avoided doing so in public for fear of retaliation. The union has heard from enough employees that leaders felt the hospitals' relationship with Accretive Health should be addressed during negotiations, she said.

"It's so important to us that we even filed an additional second information request to see if our members have been directed to debt collection work or if Accretive has been doing any other work of our members," McClenty said.

She said the union is still waiting to hear back from the hospitals.

North Memorial still has a contract to have Accretive Health do debt collection work, but Fairview ended its debt collection agreement with the company last month, officials said. Fairview still has a separate contract with Accretive Health to negotiate with insurance companies and help the hospital system control costs.

Officials at both hospital systems said they are cooperating with the attorney general's investigation.