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Debt Collection and Hospitals: How Far Is Too Far?

The Exchange

The lengths hospitals and the debt collectors they enlist are willing to go to in order to collect the money they are owed have fallen under the spotlight, as Americans ponder how far is too far. With the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act -- specifically the mandate that everyone would be required to purchase health insurance -- still looming, it's a touchy topic for hospitals groping for a working financial model.

The Huffington Post revisited the topic this week with an account of a 62-year old man at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Minn. While he was "feeling kind of out if it," a hospital employee reportedly entered his room, asked him if he wanted to pay (in what is described as an insistent manner), brought him his pants so he could get his wallet out of his pocket, took his card and charged him $493.60 before returning it.

This is not unheard of. Unsavory debt collection practices by Accretive Health, a heavyweight in the collection of medical debts, previously created a stir after being brought to the public in company documents revealed by the Minnesota attorney general, Lori Swanson.

The strategies included embedding debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms: "To patients, the debt collectors may look indistinguishable from hospital employees, may demand they pay outstanding bills and may discourage them from seeking emergency care at all, even using scripts like those in collection boiler rooms," The New York Times previously reported, citing documents and employees.

[Think hospitals are bad? Read our previous writeup on other trends in debt collection practices here.]

Accretive Health has now enlisted a "veritable who's who in health policy" to come up with new standards and pin down exactly how aggressive debt collectors can legally be, NPR reported last week: "The group includes some well-connected heavy-hitters, including former Bush administration Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and Medicare chief Mark McClellan, former Senate GOP leader Bill Frist. There are some prominent Democrats, too, including former Clinton Administration HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle."

What do you think? How far is too far when it comes to debt collectors in hospitals? And who should shoulder the cost of healthcare for those who can't afford it? Let us know in the comment section below.