Quote:Hospital patients waiting in the emergency room or convalescing after surgery could find themselves confronted by an unexpected visitor: a debt collector at bedside.
One of the nation’s largest medical debt-collection companies is under fire in Minnesota for having placed its employees in emergency rooms and other departments at two hospitals and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment, according to documents released Tuesday by the Minnesota attorney general. The documents say the company also used patient health records to wrangle for more money on overdue bills.
Indistinguishable from medical staff members, Accretive employees register patients, take down sensitive health information and champion aggressive bill collection goals with incentives like gift cards for staff members, the company records show.
In its pitches to hospitals, Accretive boasts that it trains its staff to focus on getting payment. Employees in the emergency room were told to ask incoming patients first for a credit-card payment. If that fails, employees are told to say, “If you have your checkbook in your car I will be happy to wait for you,” internal documents show.
While hospital collections increased, patient care plummeted, the employees said. “Patients are harassed mercilessly,” a hospital employee told Ms. Swanson. Another hospital employee complained, “We were told if we don’t get money from patients, in the emergency room, we will be fired.”
Accretive debt-collection employees, calling themselves “financial counselors,” are instructed by the upper management ranks to stall patients entering the emergency room until they have agreed to pay a prior balance, according to the documents.
Patients with outstanding balances are closely tracked by Accretive staff members, who list them on what employees refer to as “stop lists,” internal documents show. In March 2011, doctors at Fairview complained that such strong-arm tactics were discouraging patients from seeking life-saving treatments, but Accretive officials dismissed the complaints as “country club talk,” the documents show.
An Accretive Health spokeswoman said, “We have a great track record of helping hospitals enhance their quality of care.”
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