As a District Attorney, member of the Berks HOPE Consortium and the Berks Opioids Task Force, and Immediate Past President of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, I’m an advocate for recovery. I understand how addiction impacts lives, families, our communities and the criminal justice system. Before my time as District Attorney, I was a defense attorney where I became an early promoter of drug courts – treatment as a sentencing alternative for people living with serious addictions. I’ve learned first-hand that quality treatment means life instead of death. That is why when I first learned about scams and unethical marketers funneling those seeking help for addiction to unethical and, in some cases, unqualified providers, I knew that I had to raise awareness and why I am now taking up the cause to stop patient brokering, a practice that preys on families desperate for help.
What is patient brokering?
The most common form of “patient brokering” takes place online, when someone searches for a treatment center. Unethical marketers can trick search engines to provide phony phone numbers for legitimate treatment centers or list a website with a generic 800-number that looks like it is for an addiction information or resource center. When called, instead of being connected to a professional at the center the person thinks he/she called or for general, non-biased information, callers seeking help are re-routed to telemarketers who sell their information to the highest bidder. Then, in many cases, once the patient is admitted to the center that paid for the information, these facilities often then bill their insurance companies for bogus and/or ineffective treatment. It’s not hard to see where this scenario is headed next. These patients can end up on the streets far away from home where they will experience relapse or suffer a fatal overdose. All of this after their well-meaning families sent their loved ones to what they thought were treatment centers that would save their lives.
This is happening to families all over the country. I want to help protect Berks families and those throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by giving them tools to tell the difference between legitimate and ethical treatment providers and those manipulating information online. I want to warn anyone searching for addiction treatment to watch out for these red flags that may warn of patient brokering:
- Treatment is “free” or you are told the treatment center will pay your insurance deductible
- Offers of free airfare, perks, or gifts
- The professionals affiliated with the addiction treatment are only available once or twice a month, take weeks to schedule, or you don’t see the same professional more than once for the same issue
- Family participation is not permitted or is limited to only a few hours
Patient brokering is fraud and needs to be treated as such
Patient brokering, and related predatory online marketing practices are illegal, but Pennsylvania hasn’t passed legislation comprehensive enough to fully crack down on it. Pennsylvania needs to follow the examples of Florida and California, who have passed laws to protect families seeking addiction treatment. Caron is now advocating for a Patient Brokering Act, which I support, at both the state and federal level. The Act would prohibit these practices and recognize violations as a felony, punishable by prison and heavy fines, and revise the definition of the term racketeering to include entities providing substance use disorder (SUD) treatment marketing services. You can encourage this by contacting your representative and advocating for similar legislation.
The time to act is now
If you’re reading this and realize that you or someone you love has been a victim of predatory marketing and addiction treatment patient brokering, you don’t have to wait for new laws to be passed. You canfile a complaint with the office of the Attorney General today, who will investigate your claim and, if appropriate, will work to prosecute it as health care fraud.
You can also reach their hotline 1-800-441-2555, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online predatory marketing and addiction treatment patient brokering schemes are points of frustration for lawmakers, law enforcement, patients, families, and legitimate treatment providers alike, and I’m committed to stopping those in violation and supporting patients and their families as they shine a light on these abusive practices.
By Doug Tieman