The billing methods used by Fairview Health Services' former collection agency Accretive Health violated federal patient-protection laws, regulators say.
The University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, a Fairview Health hospital, could, in theory, get booted from Medicare and Medicaid as a result of working with Accretive Health. More than likely, it will receive lesser sanctions because the hospital has moved to correct the violations.
A state official who is investigating on behalf of the federal agency that runs Medicare said the university hospital has plenty of time to correct its deficiencies and avoid sanctions.
Stella French, director of the Office of Health Facility Complaints at the Minnesota Department of Health, said the goal isnot to shut down a hospital.
Fairview has cut ties with Chicago-based Accretive, which had placed collectors dressed as Fairview employees in the hospital's emergency rooms to pressure them into paying - in some cases while they were still awaiting treatment.
Both Fairview Health and Accretive Health have been under scrutiny since April, when Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson issued a six-volume report accusing the firms'' employees of harsh tactics such as demanding payments upfront from emergency room patients and pressing bedridden patients for money.
Patients were led to believe they would be denied treatment if they didn't pay in advance or settle previous debts, Swanson's reports says. A probe by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services uncovered similar incidents, including a woman seeking treatment for a possible heart attack who was asked for $672.
Fairview Health, North Memorial Health Care and Maple Grove Hospital outsourced billing, collections and other services to Accretive Health.