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House Lawmaker Wants Probe of Accretive’s Debt Practices

A Democratic lawmaker asked U.S. health officials to investigate the practices of debt collector Accretive Health Inc., accused of demanding that emergency room patients pay their bills before receiving care at a hospital group in Minnesota.

Federal law prohibits hospitals from denying emergency care to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Minnesota’s attorney general, who is suing Chicago-based Accretive for its debt collection practices at hospitals in her state, said in a report issued April 24 that the company trained hospital employees to give patients the impression they wouldn’t get care before paying bills.

“This is corporate greed at its worst, abuse of patients’ rights to dignity and privacy, and I believe a violation of several laws,” Representative Pete Stark of California said yesterday in a statement.

Rhonda Barnat, a spokeswoman for Accretive with the Abernathy MacGregor Group in New York, said the company wouldn’t comment on Stark’s action.

Stark called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate Accretive’s practices and issue a warning to hospitals if the company is found to have violated the law.

“We are giving it very close consideration and will take appropriate action,” Don White, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, said in a telephone interview.

Attorney General’s Report

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said in her report that Accretive trained employees at Fairview Health Services, a seven-hospital nonprofit chain based in Minneapolis, to approach patients in emergency rooms and at their bedsides about their bills.

Employees were instructed to convince patients to pay for past debts and new services they needed before they were treated.

Accretive also faces a lawsuit from a shareholder, Linda Wong, who charges the company’s executives concealed business practices they knew were illegal. Wong filed her suit in federal court in Chicago yesterday and seeks class-action, or group, status on behalf of other investors.

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