By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Drug and alcohol abuse are two leading causes of early death in Los Angeles County. There are several rehabilitation (rehab) centers – places where addicts go to kick bad habits – all over Southern California. According to an investigation by CNN and The Center for Investigative Reporting, however, some of these places are more interested in leeching money from the government than healing addicts.
In the report, 29 rehab centers have been accused of committing federal crimes over several years to scam Medicaid – a United States health program that helps lower income families. See, Medicaid bases how much money it gives to rehab centers based on how many people show up to things like meetings and therapy sessions. Instead of actually treating people, though, several centers invented patients – ghost patients – to receive more money! That’s right, they wrote down fake names of people that don’t even exist, just to trick Medicaid into giving them more cash.
Not all of the patients were fake though. In fact, here’s where the story gets worse. Some of these centers would bring in innocent foster teens and pretend to treat them for fake illnesses. Instead of talking to the teens, many counselors left them alone in rooms after they signed in. Several of them weren’t even addicted to drugs! Get this, though, some of these crooks would even go out on the street and try to lure teens inside with bribes like snacks, money, and even cigarettes.
Other teens were even forced to go to these criminal rehab centers by the group homes that are responsible for them. Victoria Byers, a victim of the scams, says she was forced to attend the program just because the other teens in her group home went and she wasn’t allowed to be left alone. “I told them, you know, ‘Why should I be here? I have no drug issue,’ ” said Byers. Even if she used drugs, it’s not like the programs would have helped.
What’s the total damage to taxpayer money? The corrupt rehabilitation programs stole $186 million of taxpayer money in the past two years alone, but experts estimate upwards of $500 million have been stolen in the last six years combined.
Featured image courtesy of Neilsphotoalbum on Flickr.