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AG Swanson doubles down charges against Accretive

Brewer Surly’s narrows possible locations; opponents of marriage amendment bring in the cash; even bigger legal bills for Senate in Michael Brodkorb case; and more.

Despite a public statement from Rahm Emanuel, Minnesota AG is increasing her charges against Chicago-based debt collector Accretive. In the Chicago Tribune Ameet Sachdev reports: “The Minnesota attorney general’s office moved Tuesday to expand its lawsuit against Chicago-based Accretive Health Inc., after more patients have come forward with complaints of aggressive collection of current and past-due bills. … The legal documents filed Tuesday with a federal court in Minnesota include 27 testimonials from Fairview patients and their family members. Some allege that they were asked to pay money in the emergency room while they were suffering from chest pain, strokes and kidney stone attacks. Others said they were asked for money while they were confused, dazed and disoriented. Timothy Palm, for example, alleges that while he was in the emergency room waiting to see a doctor for severe abdominal pain, a man told him that he owed $800. The man went through his coat, found his wallet and took out a credit card attached to his health savings account. Palm, 27, said he was later taken into surgery to remove his appendix. Swanson alleges in the amended suit that Accretive’s high-pressure collections violated state laws because they gave the impression that patients might not receive treatment if they did not pay.” Talk about a company that needs a PR offensive … .

At MPR, Elizabeth Stawicki says: “This is the latest step in a more-than-six-month saga sparked by a laptop stolen from an Accretive employee’s rental car. Swanson’s new court filing said that in addition to sensitive information on 23,000 patients, the unencrypted laptop also included the names, but no personal health information, of about 242,000 Fairview Health System patients. … Swanson’s amended complaint also appears to be upping the stakes in her investigation of Accretive’s relationship with North Memorial, another hospital company. Last month Swanson alleged Accretive and North Memorial lacked a business associate agreement required by law for sharing patient information, and that when she asked for the document last October, officials for the two companies signed one but dated it from last March. Now the new court filing goes so far as to call that an act of ‘deception.’” And how different would all this be under a single-payer system?

At the LegalNewsline website, John O’Brien writes: “ ‘Accretive prepared a document called the ‘Accretive Secret Sauce,’ or ‘ASS,’ touting: ‘You’ve never seen ASS like ours!’ and ‘Check out our ASS!’ says Swanson’s memorandum in support of a second amended complaint, filed Tuesday. ‘The main ingredient of the ‘Secret Sauce’ is that only in ‘Accretive hospitals’ are emergency room patients hustled with bedside collection visits. The impact of the ‘Secret Sauce’ on patients is very real. Its tactics also violate the law’. … Swanson also alleges Accretive overbilled patients using its own software program, known as A2A. ‘A hospital registration employee using A2A cannot process a patient electronic record unless he or she first processes informational “balls” that pop up on the screen,’ the motion says. ‘The system is derisively referred to by hospital employees as the “Blue Balls” program. A2A purportedly determines the financial responsibility of insured patients for co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance, and for past balances, as well as the amount to be asked of uninsured patients for past balances and present bills. ‘Based on the information in A2A, patients are then told to pay money to the hospital. The amount calculated by A2A for patients to pay often exceeded the amount owed by the patient. As a result, Minnesota patients sometimes paid more than they owed.’” Like that’s a shocker.

At the PiPress, Bill Salisbury pulls a couple more choice incidents. “Among the allegations:

  • “In one case, a man lying on a gurney while connected to an IV was told by a collector he had to pay before he saw a doctor.
  • “In another instance, a doctor repeatedly chased a collector out of an emergency room.
  • “In what Swanson called a ‘baby prison’ case, a collector told a woman who was leaving a hospital with her new baby that she had to pay $800 for the delivery or the newborn wouldn’t be discharged, even though insurance would cover the costs.”

“We’ll keep your baby”?

And as for that PR offensive … At The Hill, Elise Viebeck says:Accretive Health has hired its second D.C. lobby firm after facing scrutiny for allegedly shaking down patients. The Chicago-based hospital billing company will retain The Duberstein Group in addition to its first firm, Heather Podesta + Partners.”

Well, Surly’s list of possible locations has been narrowed … to four. Eric Roper at the Strib says: “The Brooklyn Center-based brewer with a cult following has spent months looking for the perfect place to build a $20 million facility, complete with restaurant, beer garden and event center. It was made possible by a 2011 change in Minnesota state law, known as the ‘Surly Bill,’ that allowed brewers to sell pints of their beer on the premises. Cities across the area have been laying out the red carpet, but the company said Tuesday that only three remain on the short list: Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and an unnamed ‘inner suburban’ location. One of the possible sites in Minneapolis is 3171 SE. 5th St., a former food processing plant just east of the University of Minnesota. That location is a stone’s throw from the future Central Corridor light-rail line.” … and a whole lot of college kids.

Opponents of the GOP’s gay marriage amendment have raised more than three times what supporters have. Doug Belden at the PiPress says: “Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group lining up opposition to the amendment, raised $3.1 million in the first half of 2012, according to a report released Tuesday, June 19. That brings the total raised since the start of the campaign in 2011 to $4.6 million. The group said it’s taken in contributions from more than 19,000 individual donors over the entire campaign and that 85 percent of the money raised has come from within the state. Total expenditures so far are roughly $3 million. … Meanwhile, the main group that’s pushing for the amendment has raised $1.4 million so far. Minnesota for Marriage announced its fundraising totals on Tuesday, the total including 2011 figures as well as the first half of 2012, a spokesman said.”

You know that national debt clock that spins so fast it’s hard to keep up with thousands per second? Martiga Lohn of the AP says: “The Minnesota Senate’s legal costs related to the dismissal of a top Republican aide climbed to nearly $85,000 by the end of May, although threatened lawsuits have yet to materialize. An invoice obtained Tuesday, June 19, by the Associated Press details $38,533 in legal services from a private firm, Larkin Hoffman Attorneys, in April and May. The latest billing comes on top of a yet-unpaid $46,150 invoice covering the firm’s work through March. The Senate has been preparing to defend itself against litigation anticipated from former senior communications aide Michael Brodkorb.”

At the lefty site MnPublius, Jeff Rosenberg notes that 3rd District Congressman Erik Paulsen owns stock in two of the medical device companies he’s been legislating — intensely — for. “Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen has a major conflict of interest, and his recent actions have the appearance of impropriety big-time. He didn’t just vote on legislation he has a financial interest in, he sponsored it. Paulsen, the sponsor of House legislation to repeal a medical-device tax that would partially fund the Affordable Care Act, owns stock in two companies that would benefit from the change, according to Open Secrets: The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, would repeal the excise tax on medical devices included in President Barack Obama’s health care law. And among the devices it would apply to would be those sold by two medical device companies that Paulsen owns stock in, according to newly released congressional financial disclosures…. Lawmakers report their holdings in wide ranges. Because of this, Paulsen’s investments in medical device firms could represent anywhere from .25 percent to 16.9 percent of his total reported 2011 assets.”