DON’T GET INVOLVED IN UNETHICAL MARKETING
Here is one of the questions we get asked all the time when marketing to the addiction treatment field. “Is it business, is it legal, is it ethical?” We get hit with all kinds of questions and they always fall into one of those 3 areas. We call this the good, the bad, and the ugly of treatment center marketing.
At another event we did, we had some scripted questions that we had already pre-determined we were going to discuss. What actually ended up happening was the people attending our workshop just started asking their own questions. They all kind of believed that all marketing practices in the behavioral healthcare industry are either unethical or illegal.
That was one of those moments we wish would happen all the time. The misunderstanding at a lot of centers is, “That’s the way we’ve always done business.” But it isn’t just business; our marketing tactics are often unethical and they even might be illegal in some instances.
PATIENT BROKERING OVERVIEW
So we just want to touch upon one of the major gray areas in the behavioral healthcare space; and that is patient brokering. If you can define to any degree how much something will cost you, and you are paying for it in that fashion, then it is probably patient brokering.
In an article he wrote for the October 2016 issue of The Sober World Jeffrey C. Lynne, Esq. writes, “…patient acquisition is also the place filled with landmines. Unlike a typical business, where one can offer a potential customer a coupon, a free ride, almost anything of value to try their services, providing (or even offering) anything of value to a patient to induce their patronage is unlawful.”*
PATIENT BROKERING LAWS
Patient brokering is a third-degree felony in Florida. Chapter 817.505 of the Florida Statutes addresses patient brokering and states that “It is unlawful for any person, including any healthcare provider or health care facility to offer or pay any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, to induce the referral of patients or patronage to or from a health care provider or health care facility.”
MEDICARE AND MEDICAID FRAUD
A kickback is when someone finds a new patient for your facility and you compensate them for the referral. Kickbacks can be illegal. The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute imposes criminal penalties for anyone that receives any kind of compensation for referral of items covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
Criminal penalties are up to 5 years in jail and up to $25,000 in fines. The anti-kickback law pertains to all healthcare professionals and service providers including doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, dentists, and pharmacists.
Let’s take a quick look at referral relationships you have with treatment centers. If you are a rehab facility and refer people to other centers, that is totally fine. When you start paying for it, it is not fine. So our advice to all centers is to stay away from this method of obtaining new patients, there is no need to do it.
*Lynne, J.C., Esq. (2016, October). Patient Brokering – Is It Time To Accept And Regulate The Worst Kept Secret In Behavioral Healthcare? The Sober World, 5(10), 14.
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