Allina Health withholds some services to patients with outstanding debt: NYT

Allina Health System, based in Minneapolis, has been turning patients away who have too much medical debt, stating that patients must pay off the debt in order to receive certain specialty services, The New York Times reported June 1. 

According to internal documents and interviews with physicians, nurses and patients at the health system, the Times found that Allina ​​provides care to indebted patients in emergency rooms, but other patient services can be cut off if they have too much debt, with some patients not being allowed to return unless their debt is paid in full. 

A 12-page document from the health system also revealed that Allina has a policy in which staff must cancel appointments for patients who have at least $4,500 of unpaid debt, as well as lock patients' EHRs so that they are barred from scheduling future appointments.

Allina Health told Becker's that it "does shut off appointment scheduling for certain areas of our clinics," but that "patients retain full access to their medical records at all times despite the NYT article." 

A spokesperson for Allina confirmed to the Times that they only cut off patients if they have at least $1,500 of unpaid debt three separate times. 

The health system said it contacts patients by phone and through letters that include information about applying for financial help, if they cannot pay their debt. The spokesperson said cutting off patients is "rare" and that patients who have urgent or emergent clinical needs receive "the appropriate care first," while financial support services are offered after patients' medical needs are addressed. 

Allina Health also told Becker's that it has supported "more than 12,000 patients with financial assistance at a cost of $18 million."

"Allina Health's goal is, and will always be, to have zero patients go without services for financial reasons," the system told Becker's. 

Allina suspended this policy during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but according to the Times, began reinstating it in April 2021.

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