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House and Senate health committees this week also advanced bills that would tighten oversight of the largely unregulated sober-home industry. People familiar with Arizona's drug-rehab industry said the state's opioid epidemic has attracted some bad actors who pay brokers that recruit patients from 12-step programs. Drug detoxification and rehab centers are willing to pay kickbacks because they can charge these newly-recruited patients — and their insurance plans — expensive fees. "I get a call once every day. Somebody wants me to pay for referrals into addiction treatment," said Lee Pioske, executive director of Crossroads, an addiction-treatment program in Phoenix. "It's just insane ... Because there is so much money in this business right now, and such a problem, it is an easy scam." Piokse said his center and other long-time rehabilitation centers want to see the industry cleaned up because there's a pressing need fueled by an opioid epidemic that claimed more than two Arizonans every day in 2016. The patient-brokering bill, Senate Bill 1451, is sponsored by a bipartisan group of state senators, including Republicans Nancy Barto, Kate Brophy McGee and Sylvia Allen and Democrats Steve Farley and Katie Hobbs. SB 1451 would prohibit rehab homes from paying or offering a "commission, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe" to people who referred patients to the facility. The bill also would forbid people from soliciting or accepting payments from rehab or other health facilities in exchange for delivering patients. However, unlike a more muscular law in Florida that has resulted in dozens of criminal prosecutions for patient-brokering violations, the Arizona bill does not call for criminal penalties. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted 6-0 to advance a version of the bill that only called for civil penalties. Under the current version of the bill, rehab homes or individuals that violated Arizona's proposed patient-brokering law would be assessed a minimum civil penalty of $25,000. The fine would jump to $50,000 for illegal brokering of 10 or more patients and $250,000 for 20 or more patients. READ MORE: Phoenix wants to regulate sober-living homes, but can it? Barto, who chairs the the Senate Health Committee, said during Friday's hearing that her intent is to add criminal penalties to the bill because civil penalties may not be enough to discourage patient brokering. Barto said reputable recovery homes have complained about the buying and selling of patients, a practice that has extended to individuals in recovery who are encouraged to relapse to kick off a new round of lucrative insurance reimbursement. "There are people making a living off of bribing people in recovery," Barto told the Arizona Republic.
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