Accretive Health Inc. is considering doing away with its hospital debt-collection services, the company's chief executive said this week.

CEO Mary Tolan said farming out Accretive's consumer collection function to a third-party collector "is a viable strategic option that we will be looking at in the weeks ahead." Such a move, she said, would not have a significant effect on the Chicago-based company's margins or business model.

Last month, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson's office released a report accusing Accretive, one of the nation's largest medical collection firms, with placing employees in emergency rooms, cancer wards and delivery rooms to extract payments from patients before they were seen by medical staff.

Accretive officials refuted the allegations, saying that the suggestion that "our focus or practice is to put bedside pressure on patients to pay their medical bills out of pocket is a flagrant distortion of fact," according to the company's statement. "Where the patient owes part of the bill, we examine each and every episode of care to ensure that patients are not improperly charged and that the insurance companies are held accountable for what they owe to providers."

The company says its collection business represents only about 5% of its total revenue, but the practice has come under intense scrutiny after Swanson's report.

Tolan, speaking this week to Wall Street analysts in a conference call, said Accretive plans to respond in detail Friday to Swanson's accusations.

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