December 8th @ 1.30PM EST - 3.15PM EST

Hi, my name is Emily Kassie, and I'm an award-winning investigative journalist. I recently published an NBC Left Field report on abuses within Florida sober homes and treatment centers, who lure in addicts to profit off their insurance policies, resulting in massive insurance fraud. Moreover, many of the young women lured in are sold as prostitutes leading to a corrupt system of sex trafficking and exploitation.

Watch the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsqvliyTQwY

I’m joined by one of my sources, Zoe, who survived these fraudulent homes. As well as national award-winning investigative reporter Pat Beall, who with her colleagues on the Palm Beach Post I-Team (u/ThePalmBeachPost) has been reporting on addiction treatment fraud and the opioid epidemic since 2015. In the wake of Post stories, more than 30 sober home owners and workers have been arrested. A local grand jury and a task force were convened to recommend sober home reform. And HUD reconsidered guidelines on how local governments can oversee sober homes.

About NBC Left Field: is a new internationally-minded video troupe that makes short, creative documentaries and features specially designed for social media and set-top boxes. Our small team of cinematographers, journalists, animators and social media gurus aims to unearth stories and breathe creative life into current headlines. While pushing boundaries at home and abroad, NBC Left Field will also be serving as an experimental hub for NBC News style, treatment, and audience engagement.

My proof: https://twitter.com/NBCLeftField/status/939190733470232577 https://www.facebook.com/nbcleftfield/videos/299611700528092/

Comments: 47 • Responses: 13  • Date: 

VagusNC8 karma

Thank you for your efforts. The opioid crisis has hit my family in three generations. What, if any, are some of the hallmarks of fraudulent treatment centers?

NBCLeftField6 karma

I'm so sorry to hear that. The fraudulent treatment centers and sober homes can be identified by a number of factors. It's important first to understand the difference. A sober home is purely housing for addicts, whereas a treatment center provides services. The first indicator of fraud is that they will charge insurance companies an excessive amount of money for tests that would be medically deemed unnecessary, like performing a drug test on a single person 7 days a week. Another indicator of fraud is that they will pay addicts to live at the sober home or treatment center. They will offer them perks including money, gift cards, gym memberships and often drugs. Many of the fraudulent sober homes will be extremely run down - mattresses on the floor, people getting high within them. I think Pat will add on here, Pat?

ShaminderDulai7 karma

How wide spread is this issue? Is it only in Florida or other places as well?

NBCLeftField11 karma

Hey Shaminder, thanks for the question. This issue is not specific to Florida, though it seems to be the 'Ground Zero'. Arrests have been made for body-brokering and insurance fraud in treatment centers in sober homes across the country including California, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Essentially, as Florida continues to crack down on the issue, many are picking up and restarting the schemes elsewhere. Wherever there is recovery, there is also the possibility of folks taking advantage of vulnerable addicts.

alcestisisdead5 karma

What is the average age of the people who end up in these sober homes? Young? Older?

NBCLeftField5 karma

From my reporting, especially when it came to the sex-trafficking, I was finding mostly young people in their early 20s who are looking for help or whose families are not sure what else to do but to send them to treatment in Florida.

hooklineandsinkers5 karma

This problem seems to be the exact opposite of the usual insurance complaint. Most people complain insurance doesn't cover my problem or my doctor isn't in my plan or I don't have any insurance. Isn't this case about insurance over paying or even paying for services not received?

NBCLeftField4 karma

Yes, but it's not the people with the insurance plans charging them, it's the treatment centers. They over-charge insurance and the insurance companies continue to pay for the most part. Though, some have cracked down on the urine analysis charges.

NBCLeftField5 karma

Hey everyone, we'll be around for another 10 minutes to answer your questions before we wrap up!

Watch Hunting for Addicts here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsqvliyTQwY

NBCLeftField3 karma

Hey all! Emily here. If you have a question for Zoe, myself or Pat in particular, feel free to specify! I'll be posting Zoe's answers and indicate when it's from her.

gjeni3 karma

Hi Zoe, thank you for being willing to share your story. What advice would you have for someone with a family member who is having an addiction problem?

NBCLeftField5 karma

From ZOE: Do not send them to the first treatment center that offers help. Do your research. Talk to professionals. Don't judge your family member. Talk to them with compassion. We are humans too and just as lost as you are.

Lux73 karma

Hi Emily,

Thank you for your work on this. I recently read an article regarding what is commonly referred to as the “Florida shuffle.” In your opinion is this more widespread than just in Florida? If so, what can our lawmakers do to prevent this on a large scale?

NBCLeftField6 karma

Hey there, yes the Florida shuffle is the name people go by. This is absolutely more widespread then Florida. As mentioned in a comment above, it's popping up all over the country in places like California, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York etc. Every state should be aware and ready to address it. Lawmakers need to be focusing on regulation and standards for treatment centers and sober homes, so that people with substance abuse disorders aren't taken advantage of when they try to seek help. There also needs to be an effort on the insurance companies side to flag unusually high charges that don't have medical justification.

monkeybird9993 karma

Emily, thank you for bringing Zoe's story to light. Zoe, I'm wondering what inspired you to come forward and share your story. Have you shared your story before? If not, why now?

NBCLeftField6 karma

from ZOE:

I have shared my story before but only in an AA setting. I was inspired to share my story because these are important issues that need to be talked about. It seems as if most people are ashamed of their struggle. But I'm not. If my story helps save one life than I have done something right.

NBCLeftField2 karma

To wrap things up here's a message from Zoe on behalf of those suffering from substance abuse disorders:

If you need help, don't be afraid to reach out. You are beautiful and strong. We are unfortunately caught in a disaster in this generation. There are millions like you and we are here to save your life. You are loved and we are proud of you. You are worth it.


So thank you for joining us and please continue to follow this important story.

If you'd like to watch the documentary you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsqvliyTQwY&

Follow Emily on twitter @emilykassie To see more of Pat's work, you can find it here: https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/staff/pat-beall/

Follow NBC LeftField at the following: Twitter: http://twitter.com/nbcleftfield Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nbcleftfield Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nbcleftfield

egb22 karma

What can the average person do about this devastating situation?

NBCLeftField3 karma

Hey egb2, good question. I think on a basic level, having compassion for those with substance abuse disorders is essential and understanding that this is a serious disease that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Understanding that your family members or friends dealing with this disease need support and understanding. On an action-based level calling on your local representatives, alerting them to the issue and insisting on regulation of treatment for addicts while encouraging them to allow good treatment centers to flourish.

brown2014guy2 karma

Hi Emily! Very interesting story. How did you find out about this issue and get involved with it? Also, you mention in the video that this started with the ACA requiring insurance policies to cover substance abuse. Do you think this is still a good idea, and do you think there's anything that can be done from a policy level that would make it harder for these scams to succeed?

Thanks!

NBCLeftField4 karma

Hey! So I was doing research on the opioid crisis and trying to identify some of the factors perpetuating it. A journalist friend of mine mentioned an article she saw about "Junkie Hunters," people hunting down addicts for their insurance policies. I started researching some of the local reporting from places like the Palm Beach Post and the Sun Sentinel on the topic. When I got down there, I discovered this horrendous system of sex-trafficking beyond the insurance fraud and body-brokering that was adding to the profit of these con-artists. That's where my story ended up focusing. In terms of the ACA, I absolutely think people who suffer from substance abuse should be covered by insurance. They struggle with a very real and vicious disease. What I think needs to happen is there needs to be tight regulation of treatment centers and sober homes as well as insurance charges to make sure that these people are being exploited. Moreover, there needs to be an investment into research on addiction treatment, because there is currently no FDA approved treatment for addiction, it's much more fluid. I think we need to be investing in medical research on how to best treat folks with substance abuse disorders, and in the meantime make sure that the places they're sent to for treatment and sober living are regulated and serving them well.

Empigee2 karma

Do you think government policies (beyond the ACA) regarding drug addiction have fostered the emergence of these fraudulent sober homes and treatment centers?

NBCLeftField3 karma

I think there has long been a dismissal of addiction as not an actual medical disease- and it is. It's only recently that the ACA and the Parity act has come to treat it as such which is a good thing. However, because there hasn't been enough government supported research on addiction treatment, there just isn't a strong understanding of how to regulate treatment, what's necessary and what's not. The opioid crisis needs a fast and effective response and part of that is investing in good treatment and sober living and regulating it, on top of the regulation of "pill-farms" and opioid distribution in the health industry.