Senator Al Franken today held a U.S. Senate field hearing on the coercive hospital debt collection tactics of Chicago-based Accretive Health, who have operated at North Memorial and Fairview health care systems in Minnesota. Patients testified to being harassed for payment while in very vulnerable situations, in pain and under the influence of strong medications. Debt collectors implied to the patients they wouldn’t get treatment without paying. Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has been investigating Accretive after receiving multiple complaints from Minnesotans, said patients were pressured to pay bills while hemorrhaging, while having chest pains, and while in pain so severe they thought they were dying.
MNA nurse and National Nurses United co-president Jean Ross testified that her daughter was harassed by Accretive while in the hospital with her seriously ill infant son. Ross left her grandson’s room for a moment and returned to find her daughter distraught. Her distress had nothing to do with the status of Ross’ grandson, who was 13 months old at the time and had been rushed to the ER earlier that night with what turned out to be encephalitis – an acute inflammation of the brain.
“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 said.
Ross spoke to the ethical obligation of nurses to care and advocate for their patients. “As a mother and a nurse, you never want to see a patient or family member who is already in pain or distress be harassed like that,” she said. “I understand the financial side of running a hospital, believe me. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle things.”
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, a University of Minnesota law professor and a consumer protection advocate all testified that Accretive violated state and federal debt collection laws with their deceptive and coercive practices, including failing to inform patients that they were debt collections agents. The trio also testified that Accretive violated HIPAA medical privacy laws by accessing private patient data without a signed contract to do so, and was irresponsible with that data. In one case, a laptop containing unencrypted data from 23,500 patients was stolen from an Accretive employee’s car.
MNA appreciates Senator Franken and Attorney General Swanson’s attention to this situation and their dedication to the right of patients to receive medical treatment without harassment. We encourage all elected officials to remove the profit motive from health care by moving Minnesota and the United States toward a single payer universal health care system like Medicare for All. Only when for-profit health care is a thing of the past will all patients have access to the care they need and the dignity they deserve.
- Pioneer Press: Franken Questions if Tactics Hurt Patient Care
- Star Tribune: Accretive Exec Apologizes if Tactics Were Offensive
- MPR: Accretive Senate Panel Hearing in 24 Tweets
- Fox 9 News: Franken Holds Hearing on Aggressive Fairview Bill Collections
- Pioneer Press: Franken Says Accretive Failed to Explain Employee’s Access to Patient Data