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Shelley Starkey

Capitol Hill Hearings Examine Patient Brokering, Addiction in Appalachia, and Cures Act

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Congress hosted an assortment of hearings this week related to mental health and addiction. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee heard from SAMHSA Assistant Secretary Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz on the ongoing implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act as it pertains to mental health programs, and two separate House subcommittees examined aspects of the opioid epidemic, specifically the rise of patient brokering and opioid addiction in Appalachia.


The Senate HELP Committee’s hearing was held on the first anniversary of the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, whose position as Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was created by the legislation, gave an overview of her agency’s activities over the past year. Committee Chairwoman Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) quoted the National Council during her allotted time saying, “Now is the time to support the highest possible levels of funding for health care programs in the federal budget.” Dr. McCance-Katz also referenced Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), a federal initiative with strong support from the National Council, as a truly promising model for physical and behavioral health integration. “I will personally advocate for the continuation of CCBHCs,” said Dr. McCance-Katz. Read the testimony and watch the full hearing here.


Experts from the criminal justice system and addiction treatment field testified on patient brokering and addiction treatment fraud before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday. Witnesses and subcommittee members alike expressed concern over reports of “patient brokers,” or individuals who receive payments or “kickbacks” for funneling people seeking treatment for addiction into specific, often harmful facilities. Many of these illegitimate facilities also charge for frivolous services, ultimately committing insurance fraud. This cycle is not only costly to communities and the federal government, but is dangerous for individuals seeking treatment. Potential solutions to these problems were discussed during the hearing, including creating ethical guidelines for practices, instituting regulations that penalize patient brokers, and creating certifications for the various addiction treatment settings, including sober housing. Background documents and more resources on the hearing are available on the subcommittee’s website here.


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management hosted a hearing on the opioid epidemic in Appalachia on Tuesday. Witnesses testified on the detrimental impact of the epidemic on the economic prosperity of the region. Going beyond a public health and public safety problem, the epidemic not only is an enormous drain on resources, but it also harms the workforce and dampens economic opportunity. More information, including a recording of the hearing, can be found on the subcommittee’s website here.