Something is rotten in the state of Florida. “Junkie hunters,” or rather human pariah’s who operate under the guise of “marketers” are recruiting addicts in the rehab capital of the world to earn a quick dollar. It’s a gross abuse of a broken system – one which is in desperate need of a policing overhaul and overall reform. What’s worse than these “care centers” and their headhunters turning profits by preying on the weak?
The practice of brokering bodies into rehabs is hurting addicts in real need of quality treatment.
In South Florida’s Delray Beach, home to hundreds of rehab facilities and halfway houses, scams abound to profit off of addicts and their insurance policies. “Marketers” act like headhunters, picking up addicts when they’re down, then bringing them to rehab centers and halfway houses for a fee — usually about $500 per head. It’s downright fraud.
Because the best way to milk insurance is to cycle addicts through detox, rehab, and outpatient programs, there’s plenty of incentive to keep them relapsing. Five recovering addicts told BuzzFeed News that some marketers give their recruits money for drugs so they test positive on urine tests when checking into treatment. “He told me, ‘You gotta be dirty to go to detox,’” one addict told BuzzFeed News, describing a marketer who gave him cash for drugs.
And what’s more, is that it is a cyclical game of fraud with a seemingly endless network of pawns. A bottomless pool of players, desperate enough for money to perpetuate the hideous scam to no foreseeable end.
Take the personal story of Ira, as recently reported by a BuzzFeed article on this growing trend:
Byron Ira, a 45-year-old from Indiana who’s recovering from drug addiction, shows how easily a brokered patient can become the broker.
After going through rehab in his home state and relapsing, in November 2015 he contacted the HART Foundation, a nonprofit group that connects addicts with rehab centers. He then got a text, he says, from someone in the sales office of a rehab center in South Florida called C.A.R.E. Addiction Recovery, asking for his insurance information and some questions about his drug use.
“The next call I got was flight information,” he told BuzzFeed News. “The day after Thanksgiving, I got picked up at the Fort Lauderdale airport.”
(Mitchell Wallick, the executive director at C.A.R.E., said the facility only pays for patients’ travel if they sign a promissory note promising to pay it back; Ira denies signing anything before his flight, though he notes it’s possible he signed something during his intake once he was in Florida. He says he has never received a bill of any kind from C.A.R.E.)
Ira had googled the place ahead of his flight and was expecting a 12-step-based holistic center far from home where he could change his life. Instead, he spent most days at “the Center,” an office building where addicts did group and individual therapy, but not based on the 12-step program. Nights were spent mostly back at the residence, a two-bedroom apartment housing four men.
The residence and the Center were understaffed and crowded. During his 23-day stay, Ira estimates he made it to only about five 12-step meetings outside the rehab center, because the staff didn’t have access to enough vans to take the residents anywhere. (Wallick denied these allegations, saying that patients are taken to 12-step meetings every night.)
Shortly before Christmas, Ira’s counselor at C.A.R.E. told him he was ready to rejoin life on the outside. But the doctor in charge of the counselors didn’t want to hear it. Ira was told that if he chose to leave, despite his counselor’s recommendation, it would be against medical advice.
Out of the almost $22,000 the program charged Ira’s insurance, they were only reimbursed $1,638.50. So Ira believes that they were trying to keep him another week in order to cover the cost of his flight. Wallick declined to confirm or deny that Ira was a patient, citing privacy laws.
Ira left the facility. A few weeks later, a man who Ira says was a patient at C.A.R.E. during his stay texted Ira with an offer. The former patient said he was making $1,500 for every insured addict he recruited to C.A.R.E. He invited Ira to join in recruiting patients, but Ira says he declined to participate.
The above story is just one of many. Addicts are being recruited from the streets and in some cases, poached from other rehabs by these head hunters, acting as patients from within. What’s worse, the patient isn’t receiving the highest quality care, but instead are being placed in overcrowded, understaffed facilities. Some of the halfway houses and sober living residences affiliated on the backend of these scams have claimed incidents of sexual assault and even drug dealing, by the house managers. There is very little in the way of monitoring or regulation for these houses, and they’re often run by people who are extremely fresh in recovery or actively using.
This rampat, statewide crisis of insurance provider fraud has caused Cigna to pull its coverage in the state of Florida for 2016. More may follow if the problem persists. These pariahs are also stripping patients of quality care, while creating a huge disadvantage for patient referrals to ethical treatment facilities, not only in Florida but other states. Many of these “recruited” addicts come from out of state, often lured in by highly ranked search engine call center links.
Some of these effects may only represent the consequential tip of iceberg if real legislature isn’t soon passed, reforming how patients can be recruited and brokered. Something has to change and soon.