Audit Notes: The ER Boiler Room, Jeremy Hunt, UK Austerity Fails

Jessica Silver-Greenberg has an alarming page-one story in The New York Times on how hospitals are letting in third-party debt collectors to pressure patients to pay before they’ve even had treatment.

The Minnesota AG says a company called Accretive Health brought the boiler room into the ER:

Collection activities extended from obstetrics to the emergency room. In July 2010, an Accretive manager told staff members at Fairview that they should “get cracking on labor and delivery,” since there is a “good chunk to be collected there,” according to company e-mails.

Employees were told to stall patients entering the emergency room until they had agreed to pay a previous balance, according to the documents. Employees in the emergency room, for example, were told to ask incoming patients first for a credit card payment. If that failed, employees were told to say, “If you have your checkbook in your car I will be happy to wait for you,” internal documents show…

Patients with outstanding balances were closely tracked by Accretive staff members, who listed them on “stop lists,” internal documents show. In March 2011, doctors at Fairview complained that such strong-arm tactics were discouraging patients from seeking lifesaving treatments, but Accretive officials dismissed the complaints as “country club talk,” the documents show.


The Guardian reports that Jeremy Hunt, the British cabinet member who apparently coordinated with the Murdochs on the BSkyB bid he was overseeing in a quasi-judicial capacity, spent lots of time in the flesh with News Corporation before the Cameron government came to power:

Jeremy Hunt spent five days in the US, holding meetings with News Corporation when Rupert and James Murdoch were first deciding whether to bid for Sky, official documents reveal.

Almost immediately after Hunt’s trip, James Murdoch visited David Cameron in London, and privately told him that News Corp had agreed to switch its support to the Tories in the upcoming election. Hunt then became culture secretary in the victorious Tory government.

Surely a coincidence.

Meantime, former Wall Street Journal Europe columnist Iain Martin, writes about the time he caught Hunt—by then a Cabinet member—hiding behind a tree so the press wouldn’t know he was meeting with James Murdoch.

— David Cameron’s austerity policies, predictably, have sent the UK into its first double-dip recession in four decades.

Paul Krugman points out that the UK’s economy performed far better during the Great Depression than it has during the current bust.

And Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal notes that the UK, which prints its own currency, has underperformed the eurozone, which has fatal structural issues the UK does not, during the last few years.

Weisenthal also calls out Cameron for claiming that the UK’s low interest rates are evidence he’s on the right track:

OMG! Your economy is going into a double dip recession! That’s why your government borrowing rates are plunging. It’s got nothing to do with “credibility.” It’s the fact that when your economy is going down the tubes, there’s nothing appealing to invest in, and so they just park their cash in risk-free government debt.

Low rates in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Japan, are the surest signals of long-term decline. What on earth are you bragging about?

All this UK recession talk reminded me of a David Brooks gem from last May on how “Britain Is Working.” Brooks praised Cameron’s austerity agenda, said the incestuousness of its ruling elite is a great thing, and talked up the “amazing” job its press, which except for The Guardian was all but ignoring the Murdoch hacking scandal at the time, does of uncovering corruption.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,