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Former Utah guv Leavitt aids embattled hospital debt collector

Published May 16, 2012 11:27 pm

Financial liability • Utah's ex-governor will oversee panel to build standards for health care billing.
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Hospital debt collector Accretive Health has tapped former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to aid in developing standards for how health providers interact with patients in billing matters.

Leavitt, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush, was not available for comment on Wednesday.

But Wayne Sensor, managing director of Leavitt's consulting firm, Leavitt Partners, confirmed Leavitt will chair an advisory panel of former politicians and high-ranking government officials to oversee the project.

Accretive put up seed money for the effort and "came to Leavitt Partners as a result of the attention they've drawn," Sensor said.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson alleges Accretive's promotion of bedside bill collecting violates patient privacy and debt collection laws. She is suing the company for those and other alleged missteps that Accretive denies in court filings and in a 29-page rebuttal released Friday.

The Chicago-based company will give input on the standards, along with other billing companies and stakeholders, such as hospitals, trade groups and consumer advocates.

But Accretive Health "will not have control or unduly influence the standards," Sensor said.

The panel will convene in June. No budget or deadline has been set, though Sensor expects the project will take at least a year.

Intermountain Healthcare, which signed a five-year contract with Accretive Health in November, is not yet involved, but will likely be invited, said Sensor.

Joining Leavitt are high-profile politicians such as former Senate Majority leaders Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota and Bill Frist, R-Tennessee. Also taking part are Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General under Clinton, and Mark McClellan, head of the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid under Bush.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, has asked Swanson to negotiate with Accretive.

But Sensor said the standards project is less about clearing Accretive's name than answering to an industrywide need.

"What's been highlighted is the lack of standards for how and when health providers interact with patients around their financial liability," he said.

Standards supplement existing federal and state laws and guide ground-level practices in all manner of fields. They are voluntary but can be as powerful as law — consider standards for weights and measurements, and safety standards for auto makers.

In developing hospital billing standards, Leavitt's panel will survey existing rules, look for gaps and then invite input from stakeholders on how to improve them, Sensor said.

Ultimately, the panel will seek endorsement of its recommendations by a national accrediting body, hoping for a "good housekeeping seal of approval" to give health providers that meet or exceed the standards, he said.

"Independence and openness are two important values in this process," Sensor stressed.


Twitter: @kirstendstewart






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