Patient brokering is ruining the addiction treatment industry, even though many people have not even heard of the practice. If that is the case, take the time to read through this post to understand how patient brokering works, what to look for, and what the alternatives to this approach are. While there may be laws against patient brokering, the sad fact is that some corrupt individuals will continue to try to make extra money at the expense of those they are supposed to help in the first place. And the practice of patient brokering in the addiction treatment industry is on the rise. This development is particularly troubling given the fact that the United States is arguably in the middle of the most deadly opioid epidemic in history. “Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue. Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. States play a central role in prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts for this growing epidemic.” ~ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Despite this troubling reality, some individuals and addiction treatment companies have used the opioid epidemic described above as a means of exploitation. Instead of providing the best treatment possible, some drug and alcohol treatment centers have instead turned to patient brokering to make money. In simple terms, patient brokering means paying individuals or outside companies to “recruit” drug addicts with certain types of health insurance into a treatment program with cash and material incentives. These so-called addiction treatment centers are then able to collect a hefty fee from insurance companies just for the drug testing stage, without necessarily following up with their clients in order to provide the treatment and care that they need in order to recover from addiction altogether. This practice is not only unethical but also illegal. Continue reading to learn why, and what is being done about it.
What is Patient Brokering, and Why is it Unethical?
The racket known as patient brokering stems from the fact that many health insurance plans cover drug testing as an essential service, with a very low deductible. While this is inherently a good thing, some sober living homes and addiction treatment facilities have taken advantage of this coverage. These centers hire people to essentially recruit drug addicts and alcoholics into their programs, offering everything from low rent to prepaid debit cards as incentives for participating. Those looking to recover from addiction are often eager to take advantage of these incentives. However, these same programs rarely provide the type of treatment that addicts need to fully recover and avoid relapse. While insurance companies have begun responding to this corruption by refusing to reimburse treatment centers, this has a detrimental impact on the addiction treatment center as a whole. Essentially, it makes it harder for ethical addiction treatment centers to provide high quality treatment.
Patient Brokering in Practice: A Case Study from Florida
Judging from recent news coming out of the state of Florida, patient brokering is a particularly damaging issue for the addiction treatment industry in that state. The prominence of the issue is caused, at least in part, but the high number of addiction treatment facilities in the state – particularly in Palm Beach County, in the south of the state.
“The young addicts flocking to South Florida can be spotted easily. Some just relapsed, walking hangdog down the street with their luggage in tow. Or they gather smoking cigarettes in front of 12-step meetings, at favored coffee shops or the Western Union at the Wal-Mart – waiting in the parking lot for cash wired from Mom and Dad to arrive. For the junkie hunters, they make easy marks. Each recovering addict with a health insurance policy they can nab for a sober home can net these so-called body brokers up to $500. They offer addicts free housing [and] transportation. If you are lucky an Xbox or cold cash will be offered. For others, there is a promise the addict can keep using drugs. This is patient brokering. It’s highly illegal. And it is Palm Beach County’s $10 billion recovery industry’s dirty little secret, an infected wound on a growing community of addicts struggling to heal.”
~ John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post
The detailed description of what patient brokering looks like in practice goes a long way to showing just how reprehensible the practice is. In fact, the headline for that news story calls the practice a “festering wound” for the recovery community. Those addicted to drugs and other substances are already victims of a vicious mental disease. Patient brokering makes them victims two times over, exploiting their drug dependence for financial gain. There is no two ways about it: patient brokering is ruining the addiction treatment industry, plain and simple. The practice of exploitation described above can easily mar the good name, the genuine concern, and the high-quality care of many addiction treatment facilities across the country. Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Earlier this year, the CEO of one Palm Beach drug treatment center was arrested and charged with 93 counts of patient brokering. This arrest came after the addiction treatment was raided and investigators found that the owner had been paying kickbacks to individuals who specifically insured drug addicts into his treatment program. The amount of corruption, in this case, is staggering: the CEO paid a total of $325,000 to three separate sober homes who enrolled their residents in his addiction treatment program. As for the program itself, one resident reported that she was drug tested three times each week, even though she was an alcoholic rather than a drug user. Given the fact that at least one insurance company pays over $5,000 for each drug test, the profitability of this racket is quite clear. The impact that it has on the addiction treatment industry as a whole is also apparent, and an unfortunate side effect of this kind of rampant corruption. There is hope that things will continue to change and that treatment facilities who are doing a good job can find support. This arrest is one of the latest in a series of sixteen arrests that came about after the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force was incorporated late last year. Dave Aronberg, the Palm Beach County State Attorney, made it clear that these arrests are just the beginning: “Our Task Force continues to move full steam ahead to investigate and prosecute threes cases to clean up the drug treatment and sober home industry.” If there is one take away from this post, let it be this: do not let the unfortunate and unethical practice of patient brokering ruin your view of addiction treatment and drug rehab facilities as a whole. There are hundreds of high-quality treatment facilities all around the country, all of which are committed to getting addicts and alcoholics the professional help that they need to overcome their dependency and substance abuse issues. The truth is, when properly conducted, rehab is extremely effective in setting up individuals who struggle with addiction with the tools, support, and long-term strategies that they need to stay sober after treatment has finished. Patient brokering may be hurting the addiction treatment industry, but that does not mean that you cannot get the help you need from reputable treatment facilities.
Christine Stapleton. (2017, February). Drug Treatment CEO Arrested on 93 Counts of Patient Brokering John Pacenti. (2016, October). Patient Brokering: A Festering Wound for Recovery Community US Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, April). The U.S. Opioid Epidemic