Senator has questions for Providence CEO on billing practices

U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington is seeking answers from Renton, Wash.-based Providence's CEO following a Sept. 24 New York Times report detailing the system's alleged debt collection practices. 

"According to recent reports, over the past several years, Providence has increasingly extracted payments from low-income patients, even when patients qualified for free or discounted care," Ms. Murray said in a Sept. 28 letter to CEO Rod Hochman. "The reports allege several disturbing practices, including high-pressure billing conversations at hospital beds when patients are vulnerable, the use of extraordinary collection actions by debt collectors, and patients eligible for free or discounted care being billed for outstanding balances. As a result, patients have gone without food or heat, have seen their credit scores plummet, and have been afraid to seek out further medical care due to the cost—all as a result of practices that potentially violate both state and federal laws."

Ms. Murray said in the letter she is seeking answers on how many patients Providence has served in recent years who qualified for free or discounted care and how many it referred to debt collection services. She is also seeking information about the system's billing and debt collection policies, and how much it paid consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for a program designed to increase its revenue. She is seeking answers by Oct. 12. 

A Providence spokesperson said in an email to Becker's that the system contacted Ms. Murray in February to talk about the allegations and offered to meet with her and answer any questions she might have. The spokesperson said they did not receive a response from the senator, but said they are "more than happy to answer her questions and are in the process of preparing responses to submit to her office."

Washington state's attorney general filed a lawsuit against Providence in February, alleging that 14 of its hospitals engaged in aggressive tactics to collect payment, failed to ensure discounts for eligible low-income patients, and steered poor patients to debt collectors. 

A Providence spokesperson expressed discontent and disagreement with the attorney general's charges in a statement shared with Becker's.

"The Providence family of organizations is extremely disappointed that the Office of the Washington State Attorney General has chosen to file inaccurate and unfair charges against us regarding our charity care and financial assistance practices," the spokesperson said. "Serving every person who comes to us, regardless of ability to pay, is a central tenet of our mission as a not-for-profit organization. We take this responsibility seriously."

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