Rep. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, Monday said it was “unacceptable” that the Department of Justice has not found a single case to prosecute under a 2018 law that cracks down on the illegal recruiting of patients for sober-living facilities.
“President (Donald) Trump, to his credit, signed it into law in October 2018,” Levin said of the law that prohibits what critics call “body or patient brokering.”
The law prohibits the recruiting of patients for rehab homes for finder’s fees in a practice that often leads to homelessness for the patients when they run out of insurance coverage. Levin said in some cases the “brokers” encourage relapses so they can qualify for new insurance and re-enter a sober-living facility.
Levin and several other Democratic and Republican congressional representatives, including Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Newport Beach, and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr in August asking for an update on the enforcement of the law.
“They didn’t write us back until February of this year,” Levin told City News Service. “We’re talking six months just to write us back.”
Department of Justice officials said in the letter that they had not found any cases to prosecute, Levin said.
“They must not be looking too hard,” Levin said. “Their letter was unacceptable and they didn’t even offer any excuses.”
The officials in the letter said the law was not yet a year old, but Levin pointed out Trump signed it into law in October of 2018, so it was more than a year-old when they responded.
Levin said state and local prosecutors enforce their own laws regarding the practice, but it is important for federal authorities to be involved because in some cases the patients are recruited from one state to another.
“Federal intervention is important because different states are doing different things,” Levin said. “California law authorizes us to penalize some people in some programs, but the federal law allows for the DOJ to go further than that and really crack down on patient brokering. It’s an important tool DOJ should be using that they are failing to use.”
Levin said the issue is an important one in his district, which covers the San Diego and south Orange County area where many sober-living facilities locate along the coast.
“In my district we’ve got about 100 recovery facilities just in south Orange County,” Levin said. “We have got to make sure people get treatment and have access to recovery services that are effective and transparent.”
Some sober-living facilities are “fine and are quite good, but others we need to crack down on, particularly we have to crack down on these brokers who are just looking for finders fees,” Levin said.
Department of Justice officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.