Personal Loan Debt Collectors Target Hospital Patients
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UPDATED: Apr 25, 2012
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Imagine a patient laying on a gurney, waiting for doctors and nurses to come prep them for surgery. The door creaks open, and someone approaches, but instead of seeing a comforting friendly face topped with a puffy blue hat, there’s a suited man holding a briefcase and a document requesting the patients signature needed to satisfy the personal loan that will be used to fund the surgery.
One of the nation’s largest medical debt-collection agencies is under harsh criticism by Minnesota’s Attorney General, Lori Swanson, after placing its employees in emergency and hospital rooms demanding that sick patients pay their medical personal loans before receiving treatment.
According to the New York Times, Swanson released a scathing report on Tuesday against the debt collection company Accretive Health, which is contacted by Fairview Health Services, for violating state and federal debt collection laws and patient privacy protections.
The case was opened up in 2011 after an Accretive executive had a laptop stolen from his car, according to CBS Minnesota. The laptop contained private medical information of 23,000 Minnesotan patients, which led to Swanson accusing the company of being more concerned with sales and personal loan debt collection tactics than the wellbeing of sick patients.
“What we found was a profound clash between the mission of a charitable hospital, which is about patient dignity and patient care, and the mission of a for-profit debt collection enterprise which is about getting every last penny out of people’s wallets,” said Swanson, according to CBS Minnesota.
When Accretive pitches its services to hospitals, it explains that its staff is trained to focus on getting payment from patients. Employees stationed in emergency room are instructed to first ask for a patient’s credit card. If a patient doesn’t have a card, Accretive employees are supposed to say, “If you have your checkbook in your car I will be happy to wait for you,” according to the New York Times.
Additionally, Accretive debt-collection employees, who call themselves financial counselors, are told by upper management to stall patients entering an emergency room until the patient has agreed to pay a prior medical personal loan balance.
“Accretive has brought into the hospitals a Wall Street collection mentality, whereas a hospital should be about care and human dignity,” said Swanson according to CBS Minnesota.
Marcia Newton, a mother of a 3-year-old named Max, took her son to the hospital for a scheduled surgery. As she was trying to check Max in, however, she was approached by a personal loan debt collector.
“As one nurse was putting on Max’s wrist band for his surgery, another employee was taking my credit card to process my credit card payment,” Newton told CBS Minnesota.
Her credit card was processed and Newton was overcharged by $600.
Fairview claims to agree with Swanson’s claims that their hospitals should be a sanctuary for the sick, and not a place for personal loan debt collectors to prey upon debtors.
“It is critical that our business practices align with our values and comply with applicable laws and industry standards,” said Fairview in a written statement. “Fairview is committed to protecting the privacy and dignity of its patients and to acting in their best interests. We continue to evaluate the issues raised by the Attorney General and will take action as appropriate.”