Big Business vs our health

I’ve been staying away from reporting large-scale lawsuits because they usually don’t resonate with us as individuals. But this one, from yesterday’s New York Times, via Jessica Silver-Greenberg, grabbed my attention. A couple of excerpts:

Accretive Health [what a repulsive, if accurately suggestive, corporate name], one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debt, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office to settle accusations that it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, even if patients cannot afford to pay.

That’s pretty bad, right? It gets worse:

In April, Lori Swanson, the Minnesota attorney general, disclosed hundreds of Accretive’s internal documents that outlined aggressive collection tactics, including embedding debt collectors in emergency rooms and pressuring patients to pay before receiving treatment.

That was so awful, I added bolding to the worst part. Some examples of how Accretive works:

Carol Wall, a 53-year-old Minnesota resident, said “a woman with a computer cart” told her she owed $300 as she was “vaginally hemorrhaging large amounts of blood” at an Accretive-affiliated emergency room in January, according to court records.

Another patient, Terry Mackel, 50, said he was asked to pay $363.55 at another Accretive-affiliated emergency room in Minnesota as he waited “alone, groggy and hooked up to an IV” waiting to see an emergency room doctor…” Fearing that it was the only way to see a doctor, both patients paid.

And watch out all of you: Accretive isn’t preying only on patients in Minnesota:

The revelations in Minnesota have reverberated across the country because they raise concerns that such aggressive tactics have become widespread at hospitals. Accretive Health contracts with some of the largest hospital systems in the country…

And how about a little corporate outsourcing of what should be government-supported vital human services?

Hospitals have long hired outside collection agencies to pursue patients … But mounting financial pressures have resulted in hospitals letting collection firms in the front door, turning over the management of their staffing, like patient registration and scheduling, along with their collection activities …

And just in case you were wondering about whether profit-making corporations contain anything like a moral component:

The company fostered a pressurized collection environment, according to interviews with current and former employees. Those employees who fell behind collection quotas were threatened with termination.

“We’ve started firing people that aren’t getting with the program,” a member of Accretive’s staff wrote in an e-mail to his bosses in September 2010. [Another in a series of discovery smoking guns I’ve mentioned.]

I hope this particular smoking gun is fired in a new series of lawsuits against Accretive, for wrongful termination.

The horror of all this. And it’s why we need to get profit-making corporations out of health care entirely.

Let us applaud the one hero in all this, Lori Swanson, Minnesota’s Attorney General.


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