How to Avoid Rehab Scams

2 min read · 2 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

Signs of a Rehab Scam

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Addiction is an extremely prevalent issue in the United States. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 13.1 million Americans 12 or older (4.6%) received treatment within the previous 12 months. And the number of people who get treatment is just a small fraction of those who need it. 

Many new rehab centers, outpatient clinics, and sober living homes have opened in recent years to meet this high demand. But with this needed increase in treatment options has come an influx of scammers attempting to exploit and defraud people in their most vulnerable state.

Here are some common scams and red flags to watch out for if you or a loved one are considering addiction treatment.

Patient Brokering

Patient brokering or “body brokering” is the practice in which unscrupulous rehab centers will pay kickbacks to brokers who send them patients. For example, the rehab center may pay the operator of a sober living home $500 a week to send them patients with good health insurance. The patient will then be overcharged for a variety of services and amenities. 

Staci Katz, the mother of a patient who fell victim to this scam, told NPR that she was charged $9,500 for 5 urine tests, among many other exorbitant costs for services. Staci’s son, Dillon was roped into the scam by attendees of peer-support meetings. “The people my group counseling meetings would offer to help get me into a new place,” he said. “But they always asked first, ‘What’s your insurance like?'”

It’s not always easy to tell whether you are dealing with a patient broker, as it’s often necessary for a legitimate healthcare provider to obtain your insurance information. One red flag is if you are asked to call a number that has no clear connection with the rehab facility, such as an 800 number. Another sign you’re dealing with a patient broker are vague online ads or generic websites with little or no specific information about the treatment locations.

Paid Rehab Directory Listings

Rehab directories can be valuable tools in finding a reputable treatment facility. However, not all of these directories are above-board. Some directories simply function as an elaborate form of patient brokering.

An unscrupulous directory may show hundreds of different rehab facilities but only include one phone number that promises to connect you to any one of them. If you see a specific treatment facility that looks like a good fit for you, contact them directly instead of calling the rehab directory.

One surefire way to tell whether a rehab directory is legit is if it includes the phone numbers of each facility listing, allowing you to contact them directly. For example, the American Addiction Centers (AAC) directory includes phone numbers to every rehab facility listed (even the centers not operated by AAC). Another reputable and valuable directory is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) treatment locator tool.

Paid Travel to Rehab and Other Expenses

Another red flag is when a rehab center tells a prospective patient that they–or their insurer–will pay for travel to their facility. When something seems too good to be true, it likely is. While a representative from a reputable rehab center may help coordinate travel, or even provide a sober escort, they will not pay for flights. And neither will any insurance company.

If a representative offers to pay for your trip to a rehab facility, or if they say they’ll pay you to go to treatment, you are likely dealing with a patient broker.

A common scam is for a treatment center to offer you “free insurance.” With this scam, the patient is enrolled in an insurance plan under a false address, taking advantage of the clause that allows someone to enroll outside of standard open enrollment periods when they move. The insurance policy will often be a high premium plan with extensive add-ons such as out-of-network services and low deductibles, which the perpetrating rehab center can bill at a higher rate.

How to Find a Reliable Rehab Program

man at computer listening to podcasts about addictionNow that we’ve gone over some red flags, let’s go over some of the things you might find when dealing with a reputable rehab center. These include:

  • Clearly listing the services they provide. Does the rehab facility offer residential treatment, outpatient care, or both? Are medications for substance use disorder utilized there? Do they provide medical detox? What do these programs entail? If this information is vague, this could indicate you’re dealing with a patient broker.
  • Credentials and accreditations. Substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic medical condition, not unlike other relapsing diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. As such, it’s important that a rehab center be staffed by medical professionals. Additionally, rehab centers are not required by law to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehab Facilities (CARF) or The Joint Commission. Having these accreditations indicates that they’ve undergone and passed a strict vetting process. All AAC facilities are accredited by CARF, The Joint Commission, or both.
  • Comprehensive, tailored treatment. Addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Reputable treatment centers understand this and will not claim that one form of treatment is superior to another. Evidence-based treatment often involves a combination of treatment approaches such as behavioral therapy, peer support, psychoeducation, and medication.
  • Aftercare planning. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition and maintaining recovery requires vigilance. Quality treatment centers take aftercare planning seriously, helping you connect with community resources and checking in periodically after you leave treatment. If the rehab center does not provide any support for their alumni, it may be a sign they don’t take their patient’s safety and success seriously.

These tips should help you choose a rehab center that meets your needs and avoid falling victim to scammers. 

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