The board chairman for Fairview Hospitals and a senior vice president within Accretive Health both apologized for aggressive patient collecting practices before a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
At a field hearing conducted by Sen. Al Franken, Fairview Chairman Charles Mooty said the bill collecting practices did not match Fairview's culture of putting patient care first.
"To those patients, I offer my personal apology and firm commitment on behalf of the entire Fairview organization to regain your trust," said Mooty.
Franken called the hearing to discover whether federal laws are adequately protecting patients from debt collectors and whether they are securing the privacy of their medical records.
The issue came to light after an Accretive Health laptop computer containing the medical records of thousands of Fairview and North Memorial Hospital patients was stolen from the back seat of a car parked in the Seven Corners area of Minneapolis last summer. The theft led Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to file a lawsuit against Accretive for violating federal medical record privacy laws.
Evidence gathered in the lawsuit also led Swanson to conduct a compliance review of Fairview's revenue enhancement contract with Accretive. The six volume report released in April produced evidence of aggressive bill collecting tactics that included confronting patients in emergency rooms for paying their current bills or outstanding debts.
One former Fairview patient told the panel that she was approached by a bill collector as at the Fairview Southdale emergency room when she went in for treatment of a kidney stone last summer.
"I was just having so much pain it was hard to process what he was saying, but I do recall him saying I do need to pay him between $700-800," said Deb Waldin.
An Accretive spokeswoman told FOX 9 that the person who approached Waldin was not an Accretive employee.
Accretive's senior vice president Greg Kazarian testified that the attorney general's report has created a misconception about what Accretive really does. Kazarian said his company specializes in is helping hospitals get paid for their services by aligning patients with the proper insurance and government health care programs.
"We're proud of the work that we do and are particularly proud of the fact that we've helped more than 250,000 formerly uninsured people obtain coverage for their care, 16,000 in Minnesota," said Kazarian.
Still, Kazarian also apologized for Accretive's actions.
"Let me be clear. Many of the allegations we've heard this morning and in the press are deeply troubling, and if they are true, they would be flatly inconsistent with Accretive Health policies, our training, and our values," said Kazarian. "To any patient who experienced any interaction with us or with our Fairview colleagues that lacked compassion and professionalism, we sincerely apologize."
Franken said his investigation is not over and he and his still will continue to ask questions about whether federal laws need to change.
"I'm worried," said Franken. "I'm worried that if patients know they'll be asked for prepayment of services that they'll stop going to the emergency room when they're sick."