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Nonprofit Health System Pauses Policy of Cutting Off Care for Patients in Debt

Allina Health, a large nonprofit health system based in Minnesota, announced on Friday that it would stop withholding care from patients with outstanding medical debt as it “re-examines” its policy of cutting off services for those who have accrued at least $4,500 in outstanding bills.

The health system will now temporarily halt this practice but will not restore care for indebted patients who have already lost access.

Although Allina’s hospitals treated anyone in emergency rooms, other services were cut off for indebted patients, including children and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes and depression, The New York Times reported last week. Patients weren’t allowed back until they had paid off their debt entirely.

Allina’s chief executive, Lisa Shannon, called the move a “thoughtful pause” while the company re-examined the policy.

Dr. Matt Hoffman, an Allina primary care physician in Vadnais Heights, Minn., said he was encouraged by the change and hopeful that Allina would eventually make more significant reforms to how it treats indebted patients.

“I hope this is not just a temporary pause until the heat is off,” Dr. Hoffman said. “I hope they do the right thing, and reinstate the patients who were already terminated.”

Minnesota Public Radio first reported on the policy change.

Allina Health owns 13 hospitals and more than 90 clinics in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Thanks to its nonprofit status, Allina avoided roughly $266 million in state, local and federal taxes in 2020, according to the Lown Institute, a think tank that studies health care.

Attorney General Keith Ellison of Minnesota has asked patients to contact his office if they have been affected by Allina’s policies.

“I read The New York Times article with great concern and am reviewing it closely,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement to a local television station, KARE 11. “Allina is bound under the Hospital Agreement to refrain from aggressive billing practices and provide charity care when patients need and qualify for it, as all Minnesota hospitals are.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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