AG Swanson, Mayor Emanuel clash on Accretive

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2012 - 9:54 AM

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has rejected a request from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that she back off her investigation of Accretive Health.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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WASHINGTON - Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has rejected a request from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that she back off her investigation of Accretive Health.

Meanwhile, another big-name Democrat -- Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken -- is getting stonewalled by Accretive on his request for information about its practices.

In an undated letter to Swanson, Emanuel defends the Chicago-based Accretive. The company served as a financial consultant at Fairview hospitals until Swanson issued a blistering report that accused the company of violating federal and state laws on debt collection and patient privacy.

The letter from Emanuel, a former high-ranking member of the Obama White House, did not directly address any of the concerns Swanson's report raised. The letter said Accretive "does important work for hospitals and good things for our City, particularly for our neediest citizens."

Last week, Accretive's lawyer accused Swanson of distorting the company's business practices and of blindsiding the company by releasing information the lawyer said Accretive had provided "voluntarily and confidentially."

Swanson wrote in response that Accretive CEO Mary Tolan declined an invitation to meet last week, and Swanson vowed to press on with her investigation.

"This is a law enforcement matter," Swanson wrote. "Unfortunately, Accretive appears to address it as a political one. It has retained or contacted numerous heavyweights in the national Democratic Party."

Franken is not among them.

Accretive has ignored two deadlines for answering questions Franken posed about Swanson's allegations and the loss of a laptop computer that held private medical data on more than 23,000 Minnesotans.

In an April 27 letter addressed to Accretive CEO Tolan, Franken requested a response by May 4, a cutoff date the company declined to meet.

At Accretive's request, Franken's staff met with company representatives last Friday in Washington, D.C., where they asked for an additional three days to respond.

On Monday, they asked for another three days -- a move that frustrated Franken, who plans to investigate the company in his capacity as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and chairman of a Senate subcommittee on privacy and technology.

"I am disappointed that Accretive still has not responded to my letter," Franken wrote in a letter Tuesday. "The allegations contained in the Attorney's General's report are serious and they warrant prompt attention."

Letter from Emanuel

While Franken wants to speed things up, Emanuel is asking just the opposite: to halt the investigation. He requested that Swanson not interview any Accretive clients until she meets with the company's CEO.

"I request that the parties cease efforts to publicly prosecute this matter and rather try to resolve the matter privately," Emanuel's letter read. "I also request that there should be no further contact between your Office and the company's clients pending the outcome of the meeting. Please confirm to me that is the path we are on. ..."

In his letter, Emanuel notes that he worked on health care issues as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and helped direct passage of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, which Emanuel called a "landmark in the decades-long effort to make [health care] affordable to every American."

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota is among the organizations that support Swanson's rebuff.

"... Here in our state, we support complete transparency of such issues especially when Minnesotans are not only seeking access to affordable and quality health care, but are entrusting their very lives to hospitals they seek care from," said union president Julie Schnell.

'Patients ... will be heard'

Swanson has no plans to back down.

"We will continue to interview witnesses and perform our law enforcement responsibilities over charitable hospitals in Minnesota," she wrote. "The patients who suffered indignities from Accretive will be heard."

Franken has requested that Accretive send, without further delay, answers to the questions he posed earlier.

"You should be aware, however, that my investigation into the Attorney General's allegations and report will continue uninterrupted in the interim," Franken wrote.

Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @StribMitchell

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