Allina says it’s updating policy that denied care to patients with medical debt

Allina says it’s updating policy that denied care to patients with medical debt

Allina says it’s updating policy that denied care to patients with medical debt

After reports earlier this summer shed light on a controversial policy that denied non-emergency care to patients who owed medical debt, Allina Health says it’s updating its practices.

Wednesday afternoon, Allina released a statement saying it “extensively reviewed” the policy and “determined there are opportunities to engage our clinical teams and technology differently to provide financial assistance resources for patients who need this support.”

As a result, the company said, “We will formally transition away from our policy that interrupted the scheduling of non-emergency, outpatient clinic care.”

The company had paused the policy since June 9 after it led to criticism.

In the past week, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced his office is investigating Allina’s practices, citing the reports about the company’s policy.

Ellison’s office is holding the first of its two listening sessions for the public to weigh in on medical billing practices — involving Allina or any other company — Wednesday night.

RELATED: AG Ellison announces investigation of health care billing, access; listening sessions scheduled

The state’s top prosecutor said Allina’s announcement Wednesday doesn’t affect his office’s investigation.

“I’m glad Allina is committed to moving away from this policy and I look forward to the public conversation about it tonight. This announcement does not change our desire to hear from the public on this issue, and it does not change the scope of our investigation, which focuses both on Allina’s past conduct and future practices,” Ellison said in a statement.

According to Ellison, the investigation is expected to last into the fall.

“We’ll know a heck of a lot more than we know now and we’ll be looking forward to sharing information and hopefully coming up with a better way forward,” said Ellison, who explained that could include a lawsuit, more community engagement, or legislative action.

The attorney general previously said Allina is prohibited from oppressive billing practices because of its participation in the state’s Hospital Agreement, which includes all 128 hospitals in the state and has been in place since 2005.

“We are grateful to our compassionate team members who work tirelessly to remove barriers to care by assisting patients with financial counseling and programs. We remain proud of our nationally recognized efforts to support patients and communities in proactively addressing key social factors that impact health and look forward to building on our work to support patients,” Allina’s statement adds.

About 20 people spoke during the first of the two listening sessions with the Attorney General, including doctors, nurses and patients.

“I had a treatment plan. Things were going OK,” said Monica Wernet, who explained she was injured in a car crash. “I found out a year and a half later that all of my medical bills for the first year, none of them had been submitted to the auto insurance company in a timely manner.”

She added, “I got a notification: ‘You’re overdue and if you don’t come up with $5,000 within 30 days, you don’t get to see your provider anymore.’”

Wernet detailed challenges resolving billing issues.

“My story is not unique,” she said.

Other patients and physicians shared concerns about how billing errors and confusion could affect children’s ability to receive necessary procedures.

“He just needed his tonsils removed,” Gina Styles said about her 11-year-old son. “They denied him because of my past medical debt.”

“It does happen and it has happened in my career,” said Dr. Jennifer Mehmel, who is a pediatrician based in St. Paul. “When it does happen, children become the innocent victim of a situation over which they really have no control. They are not responsible for the debt and they in no way can repay that debt.”

Mehmel raised concerns it can trickle down to affect a child’s schooling, behavior, sleep and participation in activities.

“I think it’s reprehensible to deny care to a child under any circumstance,” she said.