Swanson, Accretive trade charges

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 13, 2012 - 7:33 AM

Attorney general says parents of sick children were hounded; Accretive says she has the facts wrong.

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Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson released a new batch of patient affidavits Thursday on Accretive Health Inc. -- including accounts by parents who said they were hounded for payment while their crying children waited for care -- as she and the Chicago firm traded filings over the merit of her lawsuit.

The sworn statements were filed in U.S. District Court in response to Accretive's attempt to have Swanson's lawsuit dismissed. The firm first filed for dismissal in late April and said Thursday that the new documents are a rehash of "baseless allegations and mischaracterizations.''

One affidavit describes a suicidal girl curled up in fetal position beside her parents at the Fairview Riverside emergency room last winter. As the parents waited for a psychiatrist, a collections employee walked up and demanded that they immediately pay $800, even though they had excellent insurance coverage, the mother's affidavit said.

"When my daughter heard the conversation, it upset her even further during an already emotionally fragile time,'' the mother wrote.

The affidavit, filed under the name of Jane Doe for privacy reasons, is one of 10 new accounts from Minnesotans who say they encountered heavy-handed bill collectors at Fairview hospitals when Accretive was working there as a revenue consultant.

Accretive lost its contracts at Fairview after Swanson began investigating possible patient-privacy violations and aggressive debt collection practices. Maple Grove Hospital also cut its ties to Accretive this year, but North Memorial Medical Center has continued to do business with the firm.

Accretive responds

In a court document filed last week, Accretive argued that Swanson has failed to make her case. The Illinois-based company, which has been publicly supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in its fight against Swanson, also has accused the attorney general of orchestrating a nationwide media campaign.

Accretive argues, in part, that its employees were not involved with any of the first 27 patients represented in Swanson's lawsuit. Again on Thursday, Accretive said that Swanson has failed to identify a single patient who had an inappropriate interaction with an Accretive employee or who was denied care for any reason.

The conduct described in the new affidavits "is directly contrary to Accretive Health's policies, practices and training,'' an Accretive spokeswoman said.

Swanson argues that Fairview employees who did approach patients were acting under Accretive's management and supervision. The consulting company was hired by Fairview in 2010 to boost revenues and cut costs. Swanson said in her latest court brief that Accretive embedded its management into hospital staff and managed hospital workers who handled collections and patient registration.

The new documents also tell the story of an Eden Prairie family that visited Fairview Southdale Hospital's emergency room in September and October last year with their 2-year-old son. The boy, who underwent a heart transplant when he was 8 months old, needs emergency treatment for painful allergic reactions.

On both trips, the parents say, they were approached by a bill collector while their son was in tears, once hysterically. They explained that they preferred to be billed for any charges because the boy's medical expenses are paid from a special fund.

But in both instances, the family made partial payments because they believed the boy would otherwise not receive care. Withholding such treatment in an emergency would be a violation of federal laws.

"The last thing we should have been forced to worry about was paying a bill,'' the mother said in her affidavit.

Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

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