Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Utah’s largest hospitals face new debt collection rules
Health care » Guidelines follow allegations that collectors were inside Minnesota ERs.
First Published Jun 27 2012 08:29 am • Last Updated Sep 11 2012 11:39 pm

Patients at Utah’s two largest hospital chains, Intermountain Healthcare and University Health Care, would be protected from abusive debt-collection practices under proposed rules issued late last week by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The draft rules apply to half the nation’s 5,754 hospitals, those classified as charitable nonprofits. They flow from a little-known section of federal health reform but come in the wake of allegations that a Chicago-based debt-collection firm, Accretive Health, placed bedside bill collectors in nonprofit hospitals in Minnesota, causing some emergency patients to think they would be denied treatment.

At a glance

Online » The backstory

O “Utah’s largest hospital chain sticking with embattled debt collector” http://bit.ly/IFvFSd

“No more ‘pill now, pay later’ at Utah hospitals” http://bit.ly/JYr6jx

“Former Utah Gov. Leavitt aids embattled debt collector” http://bit.ly/MmfkSh

Intermountain Healthcare in 2011

22 » hospitals, and 85 clinics in Utah and Idaho

135,953 » hospital admissions

463,872 » ER visits

2,563,492 » clinic visits

$3.57 » billion net revenue

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"In recent months, we have heard concerns about aggressive collection activities, including allowing debt collectors to pursue collections in emergency rooms. These practices jeopardize patient care, and our proposed rules will help ensure they don’t happen in charitable hospitals," said Acting Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Emily McMahon in a prepared statement.

University Health Care, owned by the state of Utah, believes the guidelines would apply to its hospitals and clinics, though management hasn’t thoroughly reviewed them, said spokeswoman Kathy Wilets.

In order to preserve their tax-exempt status, non-profit hospitals would have to embrace policies against pursuing debts in the emergency department and other venues where it could interfere with treatment.

The guidelines make it clear hospitals are on the hook for the actions of billing agencies they employ.

The rules also would:

• Force hospitals to wait 240 days after a first bill is sent before reporting bad debt to collection agencies or garnishing wages.

• Block hospitals from charging financially needy patients more for "medically necessary" care than they generally charge insurers.

• Require hospitals to provide patients with a plain language summary of their financial assistance policy prior to their discharge, on the hospital’s website and inside the first three bills.

story continues below
story continues below

As hospitals struggle to collect on growing bad debt they are hiring "revenue management" companies such as Accretive to go after payment from insurers, government plans and patients.

Intermountain signed a five-year contract last November to have Accretive help manage its entire revenue cycle, from the scheduling, registering and admitting of patients to back-office billing functions.

Accretive employees have no direct interaction with patients, stressed hospital spokesman Jason Burgess, noting that the contract is under constant review to ensure it fits with Intermountain’s mission.

But hospitals asking for cash up-front is nothing new. Even before its deal with Accretive, Intermountain sought payment when patients registered for surgery or entered the hospital emergency department, though only after they were assessed.

For-profit hospitals owned by IASIS and HCA MountainStar aren’t subject to the proposed standards, which is unfortunate, said Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project.

Hilman’s group did a secret shopper survey of area hospitals to see which ones made financial-assistance information available to patients. Intermountain and University hospitals performed well, but for-profit centers didn’t "check out well at all," with the exception of St. Mark’s Hospital, Hilman said.

"We are looking forward to working through the new standards directly with Utah’s nonprofit hospitals and seeing how we measure up and where there might be room for improvement," she said.

Intermountain has agreed to partner with consumer advocates by opening its billing practices to public scrutiny at community forums , she said.

Hospitals have until Sept. 22 to comment on the guidelines.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.