According to a 2016 report, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reported that 7.5% of US citizens age 12+ had a substance abuse disorder. That’s about 20.1 million people. Out of those 20.1 million people, 93.1% did not receive treatment. With such a large gap between who had a substance abuse disorder and who received treatment, there’s been a growing number of business’ hoping to cash in on this untreated and vulnerable population.
On July 24, 2018 the National Association of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATP) testified in front of the House of Energy and Commerce in Washington DC. A Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations was examining the deceptive practice of using unclear tactics to buy and sell leads, known as patient brokering. Businesses use websites that can be disguised as a database of treatment centers. Often the deceptive websites are owned by a treatment center, or are paid by treatment centers to generate leads.
In short, it is a dirty business model.
Marvin Ventrell, the executive director of National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), and other leaders in the treatment community, testified at the hearing regarding these misleading practices. In his opening statement, Marvin explained the struggles those providing treatment for substance abuse disorders have faced. One of the most recent is the perceived notion that the treatment industry is a lucrative one and, therefore, many people want to get in on a piece of the industry. Some of which see people as a monetary figure, not an individual. Reputable treatment centers have faced an uphill battle of stigma and misinformation about what addiction is. Addiction is and should be recognized as an illness and the individual will need to receive medical treatment from a licensed, accredited provider.
Marvin went on to describe the top unethical business practices that some treatment centers practice:
- Patient Brokering
- Billing and Insurance Abuses
- License and Credential Misrepresentation
- Predatory and Deceptive Web Practices
- Unbranded Marketing Pages
- Web and Call Directory Deception
- Consumer Identity Aggregation
- Google Platform Deception
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In response to the hearing, Carl Kester, the CEO and President of Lakeside stated:
Tuesday morning [July 24th], Marvin Ventrell, the Executive Director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, testified before congress. In helping to shine a light on the bad actors in addiction treatment, Mr. Ventrell was able to share the positive steps our association has taken in regards to ethics and quality. We can consider today a victory in the ongoing battle against the disease and a positive step in focusing on providing quality care that is both effective and affordable.
At the same hearing Mark Mishek, President and CEO, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation reported:
As this subcommittee discovered in its earlier hearing on patient brokering, laws prohibiting commissions and kickbacks for patient referrals are not strong, or even existent, everywhere. As a result, some treatment providers pay a third-party “lead-generation” service for calls, turning patients into commodities. We’ve also heard of patient brokers monitoring Twelve Step meetings, drug courts and the streets to find people they can send to treatment centers willing to provide a kickback, regardless of the clinical appropriateness.
Mark goes on to mention that a lot of these call centers are staffed by sales people, not medical professionals. They will promise free travel, gift cards, or many other luxuries to get people into treatment facilities. The staff often gets kickbacks or commission for getting people into treatment. Some will go as far as encouraging relapse to get people coming back.
In an attempt to dissuade these practices, the NAATP updated their membership code of ethics that went into effect January 2018. The updated code added strict marketing guidelines that treatment centers are to follow. As a member, we agree with and adhere to these standards. We are in the business of helping people recover.
Websites, however, do not need to get permission from the treatment center before posting an advertisement. While researching for this article, we searched Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers. Not too far down in the results, after our website listing, was the Rehabcosts site.
They do list our local number in light gray. Let’s take a closer look at that light gray section….
And, they do offer a disclaimer in their “about us” section
Another site has information about us (albeit old, outdated info), but nowhere on the site lists our actual phone number. This one also offers a form to fill out regarding addiction treatment. That’s a little unnerving when it’s listed under our information. By providing information there, you are not sending Lakeside-Milam your information. You are sending some unknown call center your information and you have no guarantee what they will use your information for.
These tactics are similar to Disguised Ads that are a real pain when you are trying to download something and end up clicking on ads.
NAATP is revoking membership for offending members and holding companies accountable for their business tactics. They are removing companies from their membership and taking a hit financially because of loss in membership dues. Personally, that says a lot to me that they wouldn’t let up on their ethic code even if that meant a significant loss of members. It means if a business wants to be recognized by NAATP they will have to have an ethical business.
We stand with NAATP in fostering an ethical group of facilities who truly do want to provide the best chance of recovery. We are appalled by the act of patient brokering and we are very concerned when our name is being used by these call centers without our knowledge or consent. We take deceptive marketing practices very seriously as we strive to be as transparent as possible. The very best thing to do when finding a treatment center is to go to NAATP’s site to see which treatment centers are accredited members. To find out more and current contact information, please go to the website of the treatment center of your choosing.