One of the nation’s largest medical debt collection companies — already the subject of a lawsuit over alleged privacy violations — finds itself in more hot water as newly released documents claim that agency employees are actually working in hospital emergency rooms and sometimes demanding that patients pay up before they receive any further medical attention.
The New York Times reports on hundreds of pages of documents pertaining to the debt collector’s practices obtained from the Minnesota Attorney General.
According to the Times, the debt collector promises savings and increased collections to hospitals if they turn over control of certain administrative functions. This includes putting employees of the collections company in the emergency room:
Indistinguishable from medical staff members… 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…
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.
“Patients are harassed mercilessly,” one hospital staffer tells the Minnesota AG.
Adds a second employee, “We were told if we don’t get money from patients, in the emergency room, we will be fired.”
Doctors complained that the collections agency’s tactics were keeping some patients from seeking life-saving procedures. The documents say that the collections folks dismissed the concerns as “country club talk,” whatever that means.
In addition to the Minnesota hospitals mentioned in the documents, the collections company also has contracts with large health care chains based in Michigan and Utah.
“I have every reason to believe that what they are doing in Minnesota is simply company practice,” Minnesota AG Lori Swanson tells the Times, adding that she is currently talking to her peers at other states and on the federal level about this agency’s practices.
Swanson’s office filed suit against the agency back in January after a laptop was stolen containing around 23,500 patient files, which also contained very specific information about the patients’ conditions and treatments that no one outside the hospital should have access to without patients’ consent.
Thanks to Howard for the tip!