Congress Passes Bill To Penalize, Convict Patient Brokers

By Paul Gaita 10/25/18

The new bill would impose prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines as high as $200,000. 

judge holding a gavel

A bipartisan bill—passed as part of the SUPPORT Patients and Communities Act on Oct. 24—will impose criminal penalties on individuals or organizations that accept or give payments or other incentives to prospective rehabilitation patients in exchange for referrals to treatment facilities.

An op-ed piece in USA Today noted that these "patient brokers" connect those seeking treatment with centers or sober homes without proper or reputable means of providing assistance to patients; the result is loss of funds, increased insurance rate and in many cases, greater chances of overdose or death.

The new bill would impose prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines as high as $200,000. 

S.3254—the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018—will allow federal prosecutors to pursue and penalize patient brokers, phone-call aggregators and the companies that allegedly pay them for referrals.

As USA Today noted, it has been illegal for Medicaid or Medicare facilities to accept kickbacks since 1972, but it remains fair game for treatment centers and sober homes that take private insurance, including policies sold through the Affordable Care Act.

The USA Today op-ed claimed that patient brokers can be a persistent presence wherever individuals suffering from dependency issues might be found, from drug courts to street corners. The facilities that they promote also maintain a media presence through television and internet advertising, and call aggregators can purport to connect prospective patients to treatment, but actually collect their information to sell to the highest bidding facility.

A bipartisan group from the Energy and Commerce Committee questioned eight such call aggregators about their business practices in May 2018.

Avoiding such blatantly predatory entities can be a challenge for the more than 2 million Americans suffering from opioid dependency. While some can consult family medical practitioners or guidelines from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other organizations, state laws vary on the regulation of treatment centers, so that what may be illegal in some areas can pass in others.

As USA Today noted, penalizing those that prey on individuals in crisis is an important step in providing proper assistance to those with dependency issues.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.