NewsNation | April 26, 2012
>>> allegations of patient harass many at some of the nation's hospitals. a medical debt collection company. they have used overly aggressive tactics in two hospitals in her state. in a six volume report released tuesday, laurie swanson says the employees collected debts in emergency rooms , labor and delivery rooms, even at patient' bedsides, many time not telling patients they were debt collectors which is against the law. swanson says some workers insinuated patients would not be treated if they did not pay up. swanson filed suit in january claiming the company had access to patients' private information, a possible violation of federal law . the company has contracts not only in minnesota. they have health systems in other states including michigan and utah and hospitals in at least 11 states. minnesota attorney general laurie swanson joins me live. thank you for joining us.
>> thank you for having me.
>> let me understand what would be against the law because it seem that they do have some kind of window here that they're trying to work with.
>> you know, hospitals are supposed to be places that treat the sick and the infirm. people who are injured. 20% of americans have life changing events in the emergency room . it is where people go when they have a car know, when babies are born prematurely, when a husband or wife has a stroke. and they should be nurturing places that focus on patient treatment. when these aggressive debt collectors come into hospitals, trying to get money out of people at a time in their life when they're not only facing serious medical problems but also aren't in the best frame of mine, it can really create real tension for patients and can ultimately, the concern is, it leads to patients not getting the type of care and treatment and that they're supposed to get.
>> the emotions of it, unimaginable. i can't imagine needing treatment, having a baby and having an individual come to me saying pay up or you need to get out. what does the law say here?
>> there are a couple of different laws at play. one of the laws, the debt collection laws. we have a lawsuit pending saying that they violated the debt collection laws. in addition to that, hospitals in many places are charitable organizations . they don't pay property taxes , sales taxes . this he get to issue tax-exempt bonds. in exchange for that, they're supposed to treat people with compassion, serve a mission and basically do good for the people of the state. and so we believe, it is not consistent with mission of a charitable organization to have what amounts to an aggressive boiler room sales oriented culture put into the hospital in a way that potentially can get between the patient and their doctor. for example, in the reports that we outlined, accretive is putting quoteas for how much money they have to collect from patients every derrek every week. they're putting on it white boards. playing games if you collect x from the patient, i'll shave my head or dress up like a clown. that type of behavior isn't what you expect to see in a hospital when you go there to treat yourself or a loved one.
>> well, let me read one of the statements from north memorial hospital . you said they're not cooperating. they give us the statement, we continue to provide additional information in a manner that is as timely as possible. we take this matter very seriously. as for the debt collection company, they say we have a great track records of helping hospitals enhance their quality of care. for example we've help over 250,000 patients get insurance coverage which is not at the heart of what you are talking about here. we do know that hospitals say they go uncompensated some $39 billion in the past year. so there is an issue with compensation. if people don't have the money, that is part of the whole health care conversation that we can talk about. these debt collector tactics, we've heard recordings of people being threatened in their home. but what are some of the things people have told you specifically happened to them while in the hospital.
>> yeah, so this takes it to a whole new level. this is not a case of only hospitals hiring debt collectors long after treatment has been rendered, to ask people to pay a bill. we're about collection tactics in the hospital. and we've heard from patients who literally had bedside collectors visit them in the emergency room . a woman who was hooked up to an i.v. tube in the emergency room is still hooked up to the i.v. tube. in comes the people trying to collect money from her when she is not only facing physical ailments but also facing very, a tough time in her life. we've heard from patients who had just delivered babies and they were will you cannot be discharged with your baby until you give a credit card . even people with insurance told, we're not going to let you out of the hospital until you give us a credit card . we've had people overcharged.
>> it sounds like they're strong arming these people.
>> it really is taking a very aggressive sales oriented boiler room culture. the type of can you recall you might expect to see in a gore badge boiler room and putting it into hospitals where it has no place.
>> minnesota attorney general lori swanson , thank you for your time. we'll see what happens as this moves forward.