Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Mike Leavitt, then Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discusses current and efforts to prepare Utah and the nation for a potential pandemic influenza at the Davis County Convention Center on March 24, 2006.

Accretive Health Inc., a medical debt collection agency with connection to Intermountain Healthcare, has hired former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to lead a campaign to help repair its image after coming under fire for its collection practices.

Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm based in Salt Lake City, will work with Accretive on the project, which will be led by the former governor.

The project’s aim is to help set in motion “national standards for how hospitals and other providers interact with patients regarding their financial obligations,” according to a statement from the Chicago-based debt-collection firm.

“Hospitals and doctors have a moral and legal obligation to treat patients medically in emergency situations and to do it in a compassionate and fair way,” Leavitt, who is a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “This collaboration is an effort to provide clear standards to help medical practitioners continuously improve — while at the same time, providing patients with tools to help them know which hospitals and doctors follow the national standards.”

Accretive Health, through the project, plans to select a nonprofit standard development organization, or SDO, to collaborate with practitioners, patient advocates and other parties to develop the intended standards on debt collection.

“We believe strongly the industry will benefit from a thoughtful, independent, collaborative review and process, and we feel confident the industry will welcome this as a solution to a difficult but critical challenge every patient and medical provider shares,” Mary Tolan, chief executive officer of Accretive Health, said in a statement. “We believe we have been a positive part of the process to date in our work for leading health care providers, helping thousands of formerly uninsured individuals get coverage for care."

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson reported aggressive tactics by Accretive Health, one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debts. Some of the tactics reportedly include embedding debt collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding payment before treatment.

The debt collectors reportedly have been placed in emergency and surgery waiting rooms.

The debt collection agency provides services to some of the largest health care systems in the country, including Intermountain Healthcare.

“We’re certainly monitoring the situation,” Daron Cowley, spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare, said in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “We constantly monitor all of our contractual relationships to ensure that any activity is in accordance to our mission values.”

Cowley said that Intermountain’s experience with the debt collection firm isn’t consistent with Swanson’s report.

“I think it’s wrong to try to tie what Accretive is doing with what Intermountain does,” Cowley said. “It’s different.”

Accretive has helped Intermountain’s patients qualify for federal and state programs like Medicaid, Cowley said. He said the health care company has also looked into using some of Accretive’s software.

Minnesota’s attorney general also raised concerns that these practices are becoming commonplace nationwide.

“I have every reason to believe that what they are doing in Minnesota is simply company practice,” Swanson told the New York Times. She declined to give the Times any details.

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