Congress probes unethical treatment provider practices

Dec 20 2017

Congress probes unethical treatment provider practices

One of the side-effects of the opiate epidemic in the U.S. has been an increase in illicit practices by non-certified treatment providers hoping to profit from the large numbers of people needing treatment.

Earlier this month, a Congressional committee heard testimony on the problems and what some states and local governments are doing to crack down on practices like patient brokering, in which sober home operators accept kickbacks in return for referring patients to treatment centers.

The members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony from two Palm Beach County, Fla. prosecutors who arrested more than 40 people who run treatment centers and recovery residences.

With its warm climate and expansive beaches, Florida has long been a Mecca for people seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Many of those people are out-of-state residents coming for outpatient treatment, which means they also need places to stay.

Today, 75 percent of all private-pay patients in Florida drug treatment centers come from out of state, and for too many of them, they leave our community only in ambulances or body bags,” Palm Beach County Attorney Aronberg told the committee.

Citing federal housing and disability anti-discrimination laws, Aronberg said the laws unintentionally protect some unethical treatment providers, allowing them to exploit people who need substance abuse care.

Within the past two years, the Florida legislature has taken action to address some of the problems, and the new laws they enacted seem to be having an effect,  Mark Fontaine, executive director Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, told The Influence.

In 2015, the state passed legislation requiring recovery residences and their directors to become certified by the state, in order to accept patient referrals from licensed treatment centers. Earlier this year the legislature passed a law to bring treatment providers and sober home regulation more in line with other types of health care providers.

The law prohibits service provides from engaging in deceptive marketing practices. It also added patient brokering to the list of offenses the state may prosecute; and requiring those who provide treatment marketing services to be state-licensed.

Fontaine says it’s important to note that the association’s members, including a number of providers in south Florida were the ones who lobbied for the state’s corrective actions, “both to protect consumers, and to be sure that the providers who were providing good care could operate in an environment where they were competing equally with their peers, rather than being undermined. And there was a lot of concern about quality.”

Fontaine says recent data indicates that legislation to require certification of recovery residences is having the desired effect in Florida. In July, 238 residences serving 3,280 people were certified; in November, that went up to 271 residences serving 3,887 people. At least a third of the state’s counties now have at least one certified recovery residence, “and we would like to see that continue to grow.”

The association would also like to see “more emphasis on implementing strategies to address the opiate epidemic, and more funding for treatment available to those without insurance,” Fontaine adds.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has proposed mandatory use of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program by pharmacies and physicians, and mandatory continuing education for physicians on opiate-related topics. The Association supports those proposals, Fontaine says.

Mark Dunn, director of public policy for the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, says it appears Congress may be asking the federal Department of Health and Human Services to pressure states to crack down on deceptive marketing practices and kickbacks, although that has not been finalized. States could be asked to enact laws similar to those passed recently in Florida, he says.