Illinois residents now have an official state protection against a rehab scheme that is increasing insurance premiums for everyone and possibly taking lives.
Governor Bruce Rauner on Friday signed a law that criminalizes the predatory behavior of patient brokers, who have been known to lure young and insured Illinois residents to unscrupulous out-of-state drug treatment centers and sober living group homes.
But the patients may wind up bouncing from one recovery program to the next.
“Patient brokers are predators, preying on Illinois residents struggling with opioid addiction,” said Illinois Association for Behavioral Health C.E.O. Sara Howe. “With Governor Rauner’s signature on this legislation, the state will be able to help shutter these deceptive marketers, dry up ‘finder fees’ for referring patients as well as assure that quality, reputable treatment is the default choice for individuals seeking to overcome their opioid addiction.”
State Representative Sara Feigenholtz was one of the bill’s sponsors.
“In their most vulnerable moments when parents are searching for a drug rehabilitation program for their addicted child there are predators lurking,” said Feigenholtz.
Feigenholtz told NBC 5 Investigates the new law will expose “these predators who are hiding in the shadows.”
Jennifer Flory of Sugar Grove said her daughter, Alison, received good treatment in Florida for her drug addiction until she met a broker at an “AA” meeting.
“They enticed her with different offers of a better experience, free cigarettes, free rent, stuff like that, co-ed living,” Flory said.
Flory said her daughter shuffled between treatment centers and sober living group homes for more than a year while the family’s insurance was billed more than one million dollars.
“It was almost as if they needed to do the drug in order to get the benefits of treatment,” Flory said.
Sadly, Alison passed away in 2016 due to a drug overdose at her sober home.
“It’s an everyday thing that you think about what could I have done differently? Why’d this happen to me?” Flory said.
Industry group American Health Insurance Plans said insurance providers are extremely concerned about “body brokers” who target and exploit vulnerable individuals by targeting insurance companies to bill for treatment and tests that may or may not be clinically appropriate or actually even be provided.
“These fraudulent, abusive practices not only put patients’ lives in grave danger, but they also make it more difficult for people to afford their coverage and care,” said an AHIP spokesperson. “These practices raise overall health system costs and increase premiums for everyone, not just those who are sent to ‘sober homes’.”
Flory said Illinois’ new patient brokering law is a step in the right direction and will hopefully be a deterrent for out-of-state treatment centers to solicit clients from Illinois and other states.
“However, with what I’ve seen, even over the past year, I think the treatment industry needs to be reinvented,” Flory said. “Patient brokering is not going away and it is evident that law enforcement doesn’t have a clue how to stop it.”
Howe said while there are plenty of good treatment centers across the country, Illinois families don’t have to send their loved ones out of state.