Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and Minnesota Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben last week announced an agreement between the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General and all Minnesota hospitals that establishes medical billing and debt collection standards for all hospitals in Minnesota.

Under the agreement, Minnesota hospitals will not charge uninsured patients more than they charge their largest insurance companies for the same service. The agreement also sets forth guidelines to establish more fair medical debt collection practices. The current agreement extends for five additional years a groundbreaking agreement previously reached in May of 2005 between the Attorney General’s Office and Minnesota hospitals, in which Minnesota became the first state in the country to tackle this national issue. (The original agreement was for a two year trial period).

“Our Office has worked diligently with the hospitals to ensure that this successful agreement, which is the first of its kind in the nation, continues to work for the people of Minnesota. I commend Minnesota hospitals and their Association for continuing their leadership role in addressing this nationwide issue,” said Swanson.

“Minnesota hospitals are proud to continue our innovative leadership on this issue and our commitment to putting patient care first,” said Bruce Rueben, President of the Minnesota Hospital Association. “The continuation of this agreement signals the dedication of Minnesota hospitals to doing what is right for patients and working together to solve a national problem.” Swanson noted that health care debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States and that many uninsured patients struggle to bear the burden of the cost of health care for themselves and their families.

Swanson also praised Senator Linda Berglin for her role in addressing the issue. Swanson recalled testifying with Senator Berglin in 2005 on legislation to address the issue. “Senator Berglin has long been a leader in the area of health care and the uninsured and has continually demonstrated her dedication to improving access to health care and fairness in medical billing for all Minnesotans,” said Swanson. Under the agreement:

  • Hospitals will not charge a patient whose annual household income is under $125,000 any more than the amount that the hospital would be reimbursed for that same service from the insurance company which provided that hospital with the most revenue in the previous year.
  • Prior to pursuing legal action or garnishing a patient in connection with a given bill, hospitals have agreed to:
  1. verify that the patient owes the debt
  2. confirm that all appropriate insurance companies have been billed
  3. offer the patient a payment plan if he/she can not pay the bill all at once
  4. offer the patient any reduction in cost that the patient may qualify for under the hospital’s charity care policy

  • Hospitals have also set specific guidelines to:
    1. establish a zero tolerance policy for abusive or harassing debt collection practices
    2. periodically review the hospital’s relationships with third-party debt collectors or attorneys to ensure that collectors are acting in accordance with the law and the hospital’s mission
    3. ensure that service of any lawsuit upon the patient is documented, and that no default judgment is obtained against the patient until the patient has been given a fair opportunity to respond