ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he is reviewing allegations of aggressive billing practices and denied care at Minneapolis-based Allina Health following a report published Thursday in the New York Times.
The Times' report alleges that Allina instructs staff to cancel or lock out non-emergency appointments for patients who have reached $4,500 of unpaid medical debt, despite bringing in $4 billion in annual revenue and avoiding hundreds of millions in taxes due to its nonprofit status.
"I read the New York Times article with great concern and am reviewing it closely," Ellison said in a statement to KARE 11. "Allina is bound under the Hospital Agreement to refrain from aggressive billing practices and provide charity care when patients need and qualify for it, as all Minnesota hospitals are."
Minnesota's current Hospital Agreement went into effect in 2022, covering all nonprofit hospitals in the state. The Agreement offers a wide range of protections for patients from deceptive or abusive practices to collect medical debt.
While the Minnesota Attorney General's Office has not yet announced a formal investigation into Allina, Ellison is asking patients who may have been affected to contact his office.
"Denying patients needed care on the basis of medical debt harms every Minnesotan, whether or not they are Allina patients," Ellison said. "I encourage anyone with knowledge of or affected by the practices raised in the article to contact my office so we can determine the scope of the problem and whether any laws or agreements have been broken."
DFL Representative Liz Reyer, who helped pass legislation this session related to medical debt, said the Times' story "wasn't a surprise" and accelerates the need to tackle medical debt issues.
"It's a terrible experience and we shouldn't put people through it for spending money to treat their health, not for something they would have ever sought. They're not buying nice new clothes or a nice new car; they're taking care of their health," Reyer said. "I am just honoring the medical providers and staff at Allina who spoke out. It takes a lot of courage and it's a [testament] to how dysfunctional the system might be if the people who are working in it are willing to put themselves at risk like that."
In a statement sent to KARE 11, Allina Health said it is following the Hospital Agreement and is open to a conversation with the Minnesota Attorney General's office about its policies.
"Allina Health is proud of our robust efforts to support patients in accessing resources including proactively screening patients for financial or insurance needs, connecting them to services and supporting them when they have accrued debt. We are in full compliance with the Attorney General hospital billing agreement," the Allina statement reads. "We welcome a conversation with the Attorney General on our billing practices and our exhaustive efforts to work with patients to address financial and other barriers to care."
Allina Health also provided a copy of its full statement sent to the New York Times addressing the allegations in the newspaper's reporting, which was only partially published in the Times' report.
"At Allina Health, we go to tremendous lengths to assist patients with their financial obligations for medical care," the statement reads. "In a typical year, Allina Health supports more than 12,000 patients with financial assistance at a cost of $18 million. Patients who have urgent or emergent clinical needs receive the appropriate care first and financial support services are offered after the patients’ medical needs are addressed. Allina Health’s goal is, and will always be, to have zero patients go without services for financial reasons. Our mission is to serve our communities by providing exceptional care as we prevent illness, restore health and provide comfort to all who entrust us with their care."
According to Allina, patients receive many phone calls and letters about their medical debt prior to reaching the $4,500 threshold, including information about how to apply for financial assistance. Allina says this process can take several months or longer before a patient would lose access to care.
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