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Fairview, Accretive testifying on debt collection practices

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Interim CEO of Fairview Health Services Charles Mooty along with a top executive of a debt collection agency that has come under fire in Minnesota will be among those testifying at a congressional committee in St. Paul Wednesday morning. The hearing is chaired by Sen. Al Franken.

A lawsuit filed this year by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson accuses Accretive Health, a former contracted collection agency for Fairview, of misusing private patient information. The agency is also accused of using high-pressure tactics to get patients to pay, sometimes before they were treated, including seeking payment at their bedsides or while they were still in the emergency room.

Franken is also exploring whether federal laws were broken.

Accretive has denied the allegations and recently told market analysts the truth will come out. At one point Accretive accused Swanson of a "public campaign of misinformation."

How widespread are such reports of aggressive efforts to collect debt from patients?

Sara Rosenbaum, a health law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said one key to remember is this issue only deals with emergency room care. If you want to go to a hospital for elective surgery or pre-arranged care, hospitals are all but off limits to people without insurance. The uninsured come to hospitals through emergencies like car accidents and heart attacks. And the issue here is when to get payment. 

"It used to be the aggressive collection efforts began after you were discharged from the hospital and somebody was coming after you for money," Rosenbaum said. "Now, what we're seeing is, you don't even get a chance to get your care first."

Ron Shinkman, an editor for Fierce Health Finance, will also join The Daily Circuit Wednesday to discuss the accusations.