Aronberg: Fix Obamacare so unethical sober homes don’t exploit opioid crisis

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg in 2016. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says in a Time magazine op-ed that unscrupulous drug treatment providers have manipulated Obamacare “to foster a cycle of relapse, rather than recovery” and cash in on the opioid crisis.

Democrat Aronberg — who’s been mentioned as a potential 2018 congressional candidate but now appears to be sticking with his prosecutor’s job — says Congress can address the problem by incentivizing treatment programs that demonstrate successful outcomes.

Drug relapses must be covered by insurers as an essential health benefit and cannot be excluded as a pre-existing condition under the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws, Aronberg writes. The requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 also makes young addicts a target for unethical operators, Aronberg says.

Obamacare already reduces Medicare payments to hospitals with high readmission rates; Aronberg suggests a similar model for drug rehab programs.

“When policymakers decide the future of the ACA, they should extend Medicare’s outcome-based reimbursement model to the world of private insurance payments for drug rehabilitation,” Aronberg writes. “This could reward the best recovery centers while shuttering rogue operators who give false promises and illicit benefits to patients, then siphon precious resources into treating and then encouraging repeated relapses.”

Click here to read Aronberg’s entire article at time.com.

 

 

Addiction treatment ethics bill gets overhaul

An overhaul to a bill, HB 823, targeting unethical marketing practices in the substance abuse treatment industry would create a local pilot program headed by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to coordinate efforts to crack down on fraudulent business practices.Click for complete sober homes coverage

The late-filed amendment to the bill would create the Substance Abuse and Recovery Fraudulent Business Practices Pilot Program to “coordinate state and local agencies, law enforcement entities and investigative units in order to increase the effectiveness of programs and initiatives dealing with the regulation, prevention, detection and prosecution of unethical and fraudulent business practices within the substance abuse industry.”

The House Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to hear the bill this morning and can be watched live at 11:30 a.m. on The Florida Channel.

A Palm Beach Post investigation of the drug treatment industry found evidence of questionable business practices in the county’s largely unregulated, $1 billion drug treatment industry. Among the practices:

  • Kickbacks, bonuses, commissions and bribes between sober home operators and treatment programs to secure patients.
  • Free and reduced rent and “scholarships” offered to addicts with insurance to persuade patients to move into a specific sober home.
  • Predatory marketing, including call centers hired by treatment businesses and sober homes that do not tell addicts seeking help of those partnerships or that they receive a fee for every addict they refer to the center.

An FBI task force is also investigating the industry. John Lehman, head of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, said he expects indictments to be handed down soon.

As part of the new proposal, Aronberg would appoint an advisory panel with at least nine members from the Department of Children and Families, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, representatives from local and county governments, business organizations, insurance companies and treatment providers.

Also on the panel, the executive directors of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association and the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a Boca Raton-based non-profit that oversees voluntary certification of sober homes.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, SB 1138. As initially filed, the bills in both chambers spelled out specific crimes and punishments for violations of state laws. However, Hager’s amendment – filed Monday night – strikes all of his bill and replaces it with the proposal for the pilot program.

A similar amendment has not been filed to Clemens’ bill, which passed unanimously through the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs on Jan. 20.

Aronberg is not new to investigations of the industry. In 2011, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi named Aronberg  a Special Prosecutor for Prescription Drug Trafficking. In his role as the Attorney General’s “Drug Czar,” Aronberg led an anti-pill mill initiative that helped clean up the pain clinic industry.