Vermont officials say Accretive Health has not engaged in questionable billing practices here

December 05, 2012

VTDigger

Posted By Andrew Stein On December 5, 2012 @ 8:19 pm In News Briefs |

Vermont officials subpoenaed Accretive Health Inc. this past summer after the medical billing services firm settled a suit with the state of Minnesota, agreeing to stay out of the state for six years.

The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation wanted to know what interactions the firm might have had with Vermont hospital patients, and if it had violated any state laws. The investigation found that the only hospital that provides care to Vermonters and contracts out to Accretive is Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

The department did not find that Accretive had violated debt collection laws in Vermont.

The state investigation was conducted after questions were raised about the company’s billing practices in Minnesota.

In 2011, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson launched an investigation into the Chicago-based company to see if patient privacy rights were violated when an Accretive laptop, which contained the information of more than 23,000 patients, was stolen from a car. The investigation then widened when Swanson’s office learned about the company’s debt collection tactics.

In January of this year, Swanson sued the company for allegedly violating Minnesota and federal privacy laws and state debt collection laws. According to a statement released by Swanson’s office [1], her team received affidavits from roughly 60 patients — many of whom were solicited to pay emergency room bills before being treated.

In one instance, a new mother allegedly was unable to leave the hospital with her newborn baby until she paid $800, which was an overpayment. On another occasion, a mother accompanying her teenage daughter, who attempted to overdose on pills, was allegedly taken away in the night. She was then reportedly told that she must cough up $500 before returning to her daughter’s side.

On July 31, Accretive settled with the state of Minnesota and was given 90 days to halt all operations with the three hospitals with which it contracted.

Shortly thereafter, Steve Kimbell, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, ordered an investigation of the firm’s activity with regard to Vermont patients. The only hospital that had “any kind of relationship with Accretive,” he said, was Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Accretive provided the state with a banker box half full of contracts, patient notification forms and papers describing the firm’s history with the hospital.

“Our lawyers reviewed it and found nothing unusual,” said Kimbell. “We checked with our consumer protection folks, who are on the lines taking complaints from people, and they had no complaints. And I got word to the CFO at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to see if they had any complaints and she said no.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is a major provider of care for Vermont residents in the Connecticut River Valley. According to the hospital’s numbers, the facility admitted more than 10,000 Vermonters for inpatient services in fiscal year 2011 and almost 260,000 for outpatient services.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock spokesman Rick Adams said that the hospital has not encountered allegations similar to those in Minnesota.

“Our experience with Accretive has been positive,” he said. “Dartmouth-Hitchcock contracts with Accretive to provide technology and other resources to assist the Dartmouth-Hitchcock revenue management team in improving our patient financial processes.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock maintains control of all policy, procedure, and decisions related to financial counseling and collecting patient balances.”