Your mother has a heart attack. An ambulance arrives. But instead of taking her to the cardiac center that offers the best health care, or the one that’s closest, the ambulance takes her to the center that pays the ambulance staff the most money.
In virtually every corner of the health care business that practice wouldn’t be tolerated. The exception, experts say, is addiction recovery.
Middlemen – known sometimes as “junkie hunters,” “body brokers” or “interventionists” – find patients around the country and essentially sell them (and their insurance coverage) to the center willing to pay the most, often to centers in Southern California. The practice warps an already arduous corner of the health care system, rehab operators and officials say, blurring the line between care and profiteering.
Yet a bill to forbid and punish such patient brokering – SB 636 by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena – has been sitting in the California Senate since February, confined to a committee, with no hearings scheduled.
“Who would be for patient brokering? Why would they kill that bill?” asked an exasperated Michael Cartwright, chief executive of American Addiction Centers, one of the nation’s largest for-profit, publicly traded treatment chains. “That makes absolutely no sense. We are 100 percent in favor of that bill.”
The bill is not exactly dead, but its stagnation does illustrate the difficulty of making change in the recovery business, even when most everyone agrees change is urgently needed.
The Southern California News Group recently investigated the addiction industry and found it peppered with financial abuses that bleed untold millions from public and private pockets, can upend neighborhoods and often fails to set addicts on a path to sobriety. The revolving door between detox centers, treatment facilities, sober living homes and back again generates huge money for operators who know how to game the system.
Even those who run treatment…