Cigna Withholds Florida Plans, Blames Bogus Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities

By Zachary Siegel 10/20/15

The lab-testing industry believes that Cigna is using accusations of malpractice as an excuse to avoid participation in Obamacare. But is that really the problem?

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Advertising sunshine, beaches, and personal chefs; it’s not easy to discern an all-inclusive vacation brochure from an inpatient rehab facility in Florida. The rehab business in Florida is booming, raking in over a billion dollars yearly.

This is part of the reason Cigna Inc., a health insurance company, will not be offering Florida policies come November when it opens for business.

It’s not just the needlessly posh services offered by these facilities that are raising eyebrows, it’s the “exponential increase in fraudulent and abusive” substance abuse treatment practices. The FBI has been called in more than once for deceitful drug testing practices, where insurance is billed enormous sums for urine tests. One case stands out where urine lab work ran over $300,000 for a single client, according to the The Palm Beach Post.

There have been other investigations into patient kickbacks and brokering, a serious conflict of interest for anyone receiving professional health services. A common scam involves “brokers” going out of state to find people in need of treatment and arranging for them to get help in Florida, giving phony addresses to gain residency and a Florida policy.

In an interview with The Post, John Lehman, president of Florida Association of Recovery Residences, spoke to the implications of Cigna’s decision. “What is certainly going to happen as a result of this is the industry is going to get that the payday is going to come to a standstill if they don’t police themselves," Lehman said.

“It’s certainly going to send a pretty loud message that something needs to be done,” he added.

There is some pushback from the industry, especially from labs testing urine. A consortium of labs called Sky believes Cigna found a convenient way to exit behavioral health care.

Attorney for Sky, Jeffrey Cohen, said, “I think what they are doing is deflecting blame for their decision not to participate in the Affordable Care Act in Florida,”

Cohen believes,“I think they found a story that gives them some political and PR cover.”

But too often are people with substance problems being bullied and bamboozled, and it’s usually the frightened family forking the obscene costs for unfounded, unscientific, and sometimes dangerous treatment. Whether it’s a political move or not, the industry is receiving much needed scrutiny.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.