Addiction Call Centers Probed by Congress
Letters were sent to eight call centers by the U.S. House committee investigating addiction rehab practices asking whether the centers get paid for routing patients to treatment facilities and, if so, how much. The letters were designed to take a closer look at allegations of “patient brokering,” a process by which addicts are referred to centers willing to pay the most for their services rather than to those that might do them the most good.
“The exploitative tactics employed by patient brokers and some call aggregators have been deployed amid a perfect storm,” said the letters signed by six Congressmen and sent to the call centers.
The companies contacted have until June 12 to provide all relevant documents, including any copies of contracts with treatment providers, information regarding how many patients have been referred and to where, whether the centers sign addicts up for health insurance, and if they employ search engine optimization tactics designed to lure patients into the scheme.
On the list of call centers is American Addiction Centers, Addiction No More in Texas, Addiction Recovery Now in Florida, Elite Rehab Placement in Michigan, Redwood Recovery Solutions in Florida, Solutions Recovery Center in Florida, Treatment Management Company in Georgia, and Intervention Allies in California.
“I’m excited about this letter. It’s about time,” said Michael Cartwright, CEO of American Addiction Centers. “Anything that looks into bad practices around the treatment industry is something we’re supportive of.” He added, “I view this as a great opportunity to start a conversation with legislators. How about the feds getting in on the action in this area? We’ve worked to get laws passed in Florida, in Tennessee, and now in California – it would be a lot easier if the federal government passed some meaningful regulations, rather than doing it state by state by state.”
He explained that American Addiction Centers owns several websites that handle inquiries for its centers – much as the reputable Betty Ford Center has its own hotline, according to Cartwright. Yet, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation didn’t appreciate the comparison. “Our one branded website, which directs all calls to our single call center, is nothing like owning several websites that aggregate calls under different brands,” said Jeremiah Gardner, spokesperson for Hazelden Betty Ford. “AAC owns websites like Rehabs.com and Recovery.org that are not branded as AAC and purport to connect people to all sorts of treatment centers. The Congressional committee wants to know more about those sorts of practices, which we do not engage in. Mr. Cartwright’s comparison does not even make sense.”
Other participating call centers weren’t so sure why they are being included in the investigation. “It doesn’t apply to me,” said Carmine Thompson, founder of Intervention Allies. “As I’ve tried to explain to the committee, I’m a private interventionist. I don’t accept insurance. I have never received a referral fee from a treatment program, and I will not give a referral fee to a treatment program.”
Daniel Callahan of Solutions Recovery Center in Florida said, “The old method of having people pounding the pavement, that method doesn’t work anymore. What I see Congress attempting with their inquiry is an attempt to patch a system that needs an overhaul. The questionnaire is asking the wrong questions. The focus on patient brokering is flawed, there must be some guidelines for advertising and marketing a facility.”
The letters have garnered support from those hoping to crackdown on any potentially shady business practices as the nation battles an addiction epidemic. “Looks like a great first step and it’s significant to note that action is being taken,” said Warren Hanselman of Advocates for Responsible Treatment in San Juan Capistrano. “Hopefully this is just the beginning of what could lead to legislation that cleans up the unethical operators of these organizations. People with addiction have enough problems to overcome on the road to recovery without being subjected to ‘referral services’ that have no moral values and sell them to the highest bidder.”