Bipartisan Lawmakers Alarmed by “Patient Brokering” Accusations in Opioid Epidemic
Bipartisan Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding reports of “patient brokers” who are serving as an intermediary and profiting from recruiting patients seeking treatment for addiction. The letter, highlighting a need for greater oversight and accountability of treatment centers, was signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO), Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), and Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX).
“…[M]ultiple articles highlight individuals known as ‘body brokers’ or ‘patient brokers’ who are treating men and women fighting opioid addiction as a commodity. These brokers serve as intermediaries who profit from recruiting patients, arranging for their transportation and insurance coverage, and sending them to treatment centers in states with high numbers of treatment centers per capita, such as Florida and California,” wrote Walden, Pallone, Murphy, DeGette, Burgess, and Green. “For their role, patient brokers receive generous financial kickbacks from the centers. Brokers are predominantly paid in one of two ways, a per-head fee that can range from $500 to $5,000 for each patient who successfully enters a treatment center, or a monthly fee from a facility based on the broker meeting a quota of patients which can result in earnings as high as tens of thousands of dollars. In addition to paying for travel, in some instances the broker helps patients obtain private insurance, and then pays the premiums on behalf of the patient until treatment benefits are exhausted after 60 to 90 days.”
A flood of recent media reports have found a trend in men and women fighting opioid addiction being recruited to out-of-state facilities through offers of free rent, cigarettes, and even manicures. Upon arrival to the sober homes, the patients often find they have been deceived, and are often paired with other struggling addicts in a supervision-free environment, resulting in chronic relapses, overdoses, and even death.
The leaders continued, “Perhaps most disturbing is the allegation that some brokers follow these individuals with substance use disorder after their release and provide them with street drugs so the entire process can be repeated. This scheme creates an incentive for relapse rather than treatment and, ultimately, sobriety.”
The letter poses a series of questions and requests a briefing from HHS on their efforts to recognize these incidents and ways to counteract them.
A copy of the letter is available here.