Vigilance on hospital billing..

In Minnesota, a medical billing company named Accretive settled a complaint by paying $2.5 million and basically agreeing not to operate in the state for several years.

As the NY Times article notes, we here in California have been watching this case closely–we’ve been long concerned about aggressive hospital billing practices, passed the Hospital Fair Pricing Act in 2006 with key consumer protections, and launched to educate patients about their rights when dealing with a high medical bill.

California Congressman Pete Stark, a longtime champion of health care consumers, also launched an investigation, given his lead role on the relevant health care committees.

As the article says:

Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California, who is the highest ranking member of the House subcommittee that oversees Medicare and other health services, led an investigation in March into the company’s practices.

Hospitals have long hired outside collection agencies to pursue patients after they have left facilities. But mounting financial pressures on health care providers have resulted in hospitals letting collection firms in the front door, turning over the management of their staffing, like patient registration and scheduling, along with their collection activities, according to Swanson.

As more hospitals contract with debt collectors, concerns are growing that cozy relationships will threaten patient privacy, according to Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy coalition.

We hope we can prevent these over-the-top practices–from embedding debt collectors in emergency rooms and using pressure tactics to get people to pay with credit cards up front–from ever taking root here in California, and this settlement is a good start.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.