Accretive seeks dismissal of suit over lost laptop, health records

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2012 - 8:28 PM

Consulting firm, now under fire over Fairview debt collection, says attorney general's fraud claim is baseless.

The consulting firm that lost a laptop computer with medical data on 23,500 Minnesotans last summer has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that the company violated health privacy laws and state consumer protections.

Accretive Health Inc., the same company that came under fire last week with Fairview Health Systems for aggressive patient debt collection practices, said Swanson's lawsuit over the lost laptop should be thrown out because no consumers have been harmed and the suit's consumer fraud claims are baseless.

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Accretive also said it has temporarily halted debt collections in Minnesota under an order from the state Department of Commerce. Accretive said its cooperation with the Commerce Department bars the attorney general from pursuing identical claims.

A spokesman for Swanson said the motion to dismiss is a typical first step for a corporate defendant and that the state has until July 12 to respond. The issue could go to a hearing in August.

"We are very confident in the legal claims as laid out in the complaint,'' said Swanson's spokesman, Ben Wogsland.

Swanson sued Accretive in mid-January after investigating the nature of patient information contained on the unencrypted laptop, which was stolen from Accretive employee Matthew Doyle. The computer, containing information on patients from Fairview and North Memorial Health Care, contained "frailty'' evaluations, a "complexity" score of patients' physical condition and a prediction of whether a person would be hospitalized.

Her lawsuit seeks an order requiring Accretive to inform Minnesota patients what information it has, how it has been used and where it has been sent. She said no company, especially a debt collector like Accretive, should be using patients' medical records without full disclosure to them.

A document released last week by the attorney general showed that Doyle was not even on assignment at Fairview when his laptop was stolen. He had worked there from October 2010 to April 2011 and had moved on to be Accretive's "site lead'' at North Memorial when the theft occurred last July.

Another document from Swanson's office -- an internal Fairview report -- said Doyle should not have had access to patient health information and that Fairview would have immediately fired him for losing the laptop.

The state's investigation of the stolen laptop led Swanson to perform a compliance review of Fairview's service contracts with Accretive. A six-volume report on the relationship was released last week, alleging high-pressure bill collection tactics aimed at people in Fairview's emergency rooms, cancer units and labor and delivery wards.

In a press release Monday about the lawsuit, Accretive accused Swanson of orchestrating a nationwide media campaign against Accretive instead of litigating the case in court.

Tony Kennedy 612-673-4213

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