Congress Takes Aim at Treatment Call-Centers
We’ve all seen the cringy commercials on television, one that comes to mind is the actor posing as a “doctor” with the stethoscope.
“We’ll connect you with a qualified advisor who understands where you are.” – but what exactly makes someone a qualified advisor? This is just one question that congress wants answered.
Lead generation, in any industry, is huge business and often, not so ethical. In the underbelly of drug treatment, there is no exception. Let me preface by saying that by no means do all drug treatment centers partake in this practice, however the ones that do will go to any lengths to keep their center full and the money rolling in.
For years, there were almost no regulations in the world of drug treatment. It was common practice to fill beds with an “any means necessary” attitude. This meant hiring “street marketers”, paying for flights, cigarettes, etc.
These so-called marketers soon coined the title of “patient brokers”, whom of which would often coerce patients to their affiliated centers with offerings of free housing, waiving all deductibles, copayments, and in more heinous cases offering them money and even drugs to admit.
Soon, law makers at the state level began to catch on and began implementing laws to help curb these detrimental practices.
As we all know, as one problem is dealt with usually another rises – enter the era of treatment call centers.
Medical treatment, in any sector, must be built upon compassion, ethics, and best treatment practice. However, without proper regulations from the state and federal level, bad players will continue to operate as they please.
Every day hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people see these commercials and some believe that they are calling an actual treatment center. They are not. They are calling a referral service that will sell their information to the highest bidder or the next center on their list.
These type of referral centers often pose as treatment centers and have a huge foothold not only on commercials, but on the web as well.
Google recently pulled a vast majority of their Adwords campaigns for all treatment centers because of the unforthcoming presentation some referral services display.
In an effort to further inquire into unethical and illegal marketing tactics to acquire patients for drug treatment, the Committee on Energy and Commerce issued letters to eight call aggregators/centers on May 29th. The committee has been investigating claims of patient brokering and shady call centers since last year, and over the course of their investigation received testimony from the President and CEO of an unknown treatment facility who acted as a whistle blower to the unethical lengths some treatment facilities go to fill beds.
In the letters sent out to these eight centers they make it clear that they have grown wise of common unethical practices and cite certain patient brokering related kickbacks, ranging from $500-$5000 per person or a flat rate salary based on meeting a patient quota.
Congress understand that these addicts and/or their families are often in some of the most vulnerable times of their life. In the letters, they cite that 115 Americans die a day from drug overdoses – this is actually an old figure and the current figure is closer to 165 a day.
They understand that when the window of willingness to go to treatment is open the family will often just go with whatever is the quickest and easiest – scared that the window of opportunity may close rapidly for their loved one.
These call centers know this too and may use extremely aggressive tactics to get the patient or families to commit, often using the potential of imminent overdose to scare them into moving quickly without thinking.
Well, in the letters sent out to the eight call centers congress pulled no punches.
The letter ends with a series of ten questions – all having subsection questions as well. These questions vary from “Please provide a breakdown of the number of calls that your company has received and/or routed to any facilities by month, form January 2013 to present” to “Is your company a standalone entity or do you have affiliations with other facilities; including call centers, websites, detox centers, etc.” – a copy of the letter in its entirety will be linked below.
Congress has given these call centers two weeks to give written answers to all questions and provide all documentation.
My personal opinion? This was a mistake. I would imagine that the only sound that can be heard at these call centers is the sound of the paper shredders working overtime. If they wanted the real truth, warrants should have been issued and all documentation seized to avoid any attempts in tampering with evidence.
The real meaning behind these inquiries is that federal regulation for lead generating practice in the addiction treatment space is on the horizon.
This is a GOOD thing.
However, it is unfortunate that the federal government always seems to be a few years behind the ball on extremely important, national issues. At this point these centers are rapidly becoming extinct along with the many of the corrupt treatment centers, as insurance companies no longer pay the exuberant rates that they used to.
Insurance companies are now commonly paying pennies on the dollar of what they used to, if they pay at all.
As I brought up earlier, as one problem is “solved” another comes about in its absence.
We obviously need regulation to eliminate these unethical referral services and egregious patient brokering. However, the current problem in the industry is that there is no mediation or regulation between insurance companies and the treatment centers that are actually practicing ethically. There have been no agreement as far as fair reimbursement rates go.
After years of fraudulent charges and the exploitation of insurance companies, they finally said enough is enough and stopped paying out for these claims.
The system has been broken for so many years and this is a multi-faceted problem. One can only hope that more letters from congress are in the works and that they are working tirelessly to leave no stone unturned.
I’m proud to work here at Evolutions Treatment Center. If you call here for help you are calling Evolutions and onlyEvolutions. Myself, (Zach) or Blake Cohen, Director of Admissions, will assist you. We use no call centers, we do not engage in any referral services, and we pride ourselves on our integrity, honesty, and compassion. It is an honor to serve our community and we will continue to do so until we can do it no longer.