New York Times: (my favorite parts in bold)
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.
The company, Accretive Health, has contracts with dozens of hospitals around the country. Since January, it has faced a civil lawsuit filed by Attorney General Lori Swanson of Minnesota alleging that it violated state and federal debt-collection laws and patient privacy protections.
Ms. Swanson, though not bringing further charges on Tuesday, said she was in discussions with state and federal regulators to prompt a widespread crackdown on Accretive Health’s practices in other states.
“I have every reason to believe that what they are doing in Minnesota is simply company practice,” she said in an interview, but declined to be more specific.
An Accretive Health spokeswoman said, “We have a great track record of helping hospitals enhance their quality of care.” Hundreds of internal company documents released by the attorney general’s office cast a spotlight on the increasingly aggressive medical-collection techniques used against patients at hospitals across the country.
“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.
While it's legal to share patient information for the collection of debts, this seems like it crosses the line, allowing debt collectors access to privileged information on all patients, regardless of whether they owe money, in order to identify a subset that owes money. Placing these debt collection agency people in admissions, as if they're part of the hospital staff, strikes me as a transparent scam to get around medical privacy laws.