ST. PAUL, Minn. - Attorney General Lori Swanson says the state has settled a lawsuit against Chicago-based Accretive Health Inc. over aggressive efforts to collect debt from patients in several Minnesota hospitals.
The settlement Swanson announced Monday requires Accretive to stop operating in Minnesota by November and stay out of the state for six years.
Swanson says the company will also pay $2.5 million to set up a restitution fund for patients and return patient data to its client hospitals in the state.
"A hospital emergency room is a place of medical trauma and emotional suffering for patients and their families. It should be a solemn place, not a place for a financial shakedown of patients," Attorney General Swanson wrote in a statement. "It is good to close the door on this disturbing chapter in Minnesota health care."
Accretive issued a statement saying the settlement contains no admission of wrongdoing. The company maintains Swanson's charges were "baseless and exaggerated."
"Even though we believe the claims against us were either baseless or exaggerated, we have used this opportunity to carefully examine our own practices in order to ensure we are setting the very highest standards for our own performance and achieving the best possible outcomes for hospitals, patients and communities," Accretive CEO Mary Tolan said in a statement. "Entering into this settlement agreement allows our Company to put this matter behind us and prevents further distraction from the important work that we do for our hospital clients."
Accretive attorney Joe Anthony added the claims were overblown for political gain.
"This is not a happy day being portrayed by the attorney general," Anthony said."We had 100 people who are now out of their jobs because the attorney general thought it was more politically advantageous to demonize this company and put a 100 people out of work."
Swanson sued Accretive in January over alleged violations of state and federal laws. Accretive worked for Fairview Health Systems, North Memorial Hospital and Maple Grove Hospital.
"Accretive has been accused of harassing patients in the emergency room and mishandling their private medical data, and that should never happen," said Minnesota Senator Al Franken. "In May, I held a Senate hearing in Minnesota to investigate the allegations against Accretive, and it was clear that our laws don't go far enough to protect consumers from serious breaches of trust."
Fairview Health declined comment, but has terminated its agreement with Accretive.
"I actually just had emergency surgery there last week and it was actually wonderful care and no problem what so ever," said JoAnn Larson who says she and her husband were hassled for payment at Fairview last year.
North Memorial also worked with Accretive in the past, but no longer does. Hospital spokesperson Wendy Jerde released this statement:
"North Memorial announced today the organization and Accretive Health have mutually decided to end their business relationship. This decision was made prior the Minnesota Attorney General's announcement regarding the settlement with Accretive.
North Memorial hired Accretive in 2011 to assist the organization with revenue cycle management which includes finding untapped sources of insurance coverage for patients as well as providing patients with more accurate out-of-pocket cost estimates.
North Memorial is working on an orderly and accelerated transition plan with Accretive to ensure revenue cycle improvement continues. The transition is expected to be complete in August.
North Memorial's experience with Accretive was different than what was depicted in news stories about other hospitals and from the beginning of the relationship, North Memorial maintained management oversight of its revenue cycle, staff and policies."
U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle approved the settlement Monday.
The Attorney General's office says if patients have questions, contact Swanson's office at ag.state.mn.us or by calling (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press and KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)