“Bills take aim at Arizona’s booming drug rehab industry”

This session, I worked with stakeholders to pass a bipartisan bill to responsibly regulate sober living homes – legislation that passed unanimously. The bill provides much needed regulation and oversight to the sober living home industry.

Previously, operators and bad actors were taking advantage of our communities and those seeking help. Now, because of our work with stakeholders and neighborhood leaders, sober living homes must operate at a consistent and high standard, or lose their license.  The new standards protect patients and provide safety in the neighborhoods where these homes are located.  The end goal is to improve outcomes for patients while ensuring these homes will no longer endanger our communities.

Read more from Ken Alltucker at the Arizona Republic about our efforts to protect our neighborhoods and help Arizonans:

Bills take aim at Arizona’s booming drug rehab industry

February 18, 2018. Ken Alltucker, The Republic

“A trio of bills take aim at a thornier part of the opioid epidemic that Gov. Doug Ducey’s special legislative session did not address: emerging problems in Arizona’s booming drug and alcohol rehab industry.

The Arizona Senate health committee on Friday advanced a patient-brokering bill that would prohibit rehab homes from paying fees or kickbacks to recruit patients. House and Senate health committees this week also advanced bills that would tighten oversight of the largely unregulated sober-home industry.

People familiar with Arizona’s drug-rehab industry said the state’s opioid epidemic has attracted some bad actors who pay brokers that recruit patients from 12-step programs.

Drug detoxification and rehab centers are willing to pay kickbacks because they can charge these newly-recruited patients — and their insurance plans —  expensive fees.

“I get a call once every day. Somebody wants me to pay for referrals into addiction treatment,” said Lee Pioske, executive director of Crossroads, an addiction-treatment program in Phoenix. “It’s just insane … Because there is so much money in this business right now, and such a problem, it is an easy scam.”

Piokse said his center and other long-time rehabilitation centers want to see the industry cleaned up because there’s a pressing need fueled by an opioid epidemic that claimed more than two Arizonans every day in 2016.

‘Bribing people in recovery’

The patient-brokering bill, Senate Bill 1451, is sponsored by a bipartisan group of state senators, including Republicans Nancy Barto, Kate Brophy McGee and Sylvia Allen and Democrats Steve Farley and Katie Hobbs.

SB 1451 would prohibit rehab homes from paying or offering a “commission, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe” to people who referred patients to the facility.

The bill also would forbid people from soliciting or accepting payments from rehab or other health facilities in exchange for delivering patients.

However, unlike a more muscular law in Florida that has resulted in dozens of criminal prosecutions for patient-brokering violations, the Arizona bill does not call for criminal penalties.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted 6-0 to advance a version of the bill that only called for civil penalties.

Under the current version of the bill, rehab homes or individuals that violated Arizona’s proposed patient-brokering law would be assessed a minimum civil penalty of $25,000. The fine would jump to $50,000 for illegal brokering of 10 or more patients and $250,000 for 20 or more patients.

Barto, who chairs the the Senate Health Committee, said during Friday’s hearing that her intent is to add criminal penalties to the bill because civil penalties may not be enough to discourage patient brokering.

Barto said reputable recovery homes have complained about the buying and selling of patients, a practice that has extended to individuals in recovery who are encouraged to relapse to kick off a new round of lucrative insurance reimbursement.

“There are people making a living off of bribing people in recovery,” Barto told the Arizona Republic. “They lie in wait for a group of people coming out of counseling, 12-step programs. They will bribe them with drugs and alcohol and induce them to get high and test dirty so they will qualify to be referred to another residential treatment center.”

Doctors are cutting back on opioid prescriptions but not by nearly enough, federal health officials say.Wochit

Licensing sober homes

Two other related bills will seek to tighten oversight of sober homes, which often work in tandem with drug detox and rehab centers. Patients detox from drugs or alcohol and are transferred to sober homes where they live while they continue outpatient therapy.

House Bill 2529, sponsored by Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, passed the House Health Committee on Thursday. A mirror bill, Senate Bill 1465 sponsored by Brophy McGee, passed the Senate Health Committee Friday on a 7-0 vote.

Both House and Senate sober-home bills would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to license sober homes. Sober home staffers also would be subject to criminal background checks, and residents would be tested for drugs and alcohol.

Campbell sponsored legislation in 2016 that allowed cities and counties to register sober homes following complaints from Prescott residents about the proliferation of such operations. The Prescott Republican wrote a bill last year that would have made it a crime to accept or make payments to recruit patients, but the bill died in committee.

Prescott became the first city in the state to regulate sober homes last year. The estimated number of sober homes in the Northern Arizona community dropped from 200 to fewer than 50.

Lawsuits over rehab centers

A private health insurer, Centene’s Health Net of Arizona, conducted a special investigation of Arizona’s drug-rehab industry in Arizona after its payments soared from $2.4 million in 2014 to $47.4 million in 2015.

Six alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers in Prescott and another three in Scottsdale sued Health Net, alleging the insurer improperly withheld or delayed lucrative payments for treatment of people struggling with addiction.

Health Net countersued the rehab centers, alleging widespread fraud. Centene investigators testified at a Prescott city meeting that several sober homes, which worked closely with the rehab centers, closed after the insurer’s investigation…”