Many clients who enter treatment seem very skeptical when they first come through the doors. For many, it seems easy to blame this on a general unwillingness to get sober. Unfortunately, the root of the problem is sometimes much darker. Because for every client who simply doesn’t care to receive treatment, there are others whose skepticism is much more justified. That’s because many clients who have been through treatment before have unfortunately found themselves victims of the Florida shuffle.
American citizens recently became aware of the Florida shuffle due to an investigative report by NBC. They witnessed the terrifying stories of insurance fraud and overdose death arising from treatment centers who prioritized profit above the health and well-being of those who trusted them. Here in Florida, we see this happen quite often. But not all clients who enter treatment in the Sunshine State fall prey to these schemes. Many do receive the help they need. The trick lies in understanding how the shuffle works. By educating oneself on the issues at hand, it becomes easier to avoid becoming just another brokered body.
Those familiar with the Florida shuffle define it by a few specific traits. Knowing these will help you to recognize them upfront rather than seeing them in hindsight. Good help is hard to find these days. With a little foresight, however, you can beat the shuffle for good, ensuring a long-lasting—and above all, safe—life in recovery.
Defining the Florida Shuffle
Some equate the Florida shuffle to human trafficking. While extreme, this comparison plays off the fact that many treatment centers operate in violation of the Florida Patient Brokering Act. This statute prevents health care facilities from offering kickbacks in return for patient referrals.
Many treatment marketers work for hire. Rather than working directly for a treatment center, they contract their services out and receive a commission for each client they bring in. Many of them make outrageous salaries by convincing addicts in recovery to enter treatment. In many cases, they even sway these clients to switch treatment centers. If needed, they may offer them drugs so that the now-relapsed client can enter detox before continuing through subsequent stages of treatment. Needless to say, this violates the statutes put in place to ensure better quality of care.
Addicts and alcoholics who do not wish to recover often play into the shuffle willingly. Treatment centers that put profit ahead of recovery will allow clients to stay in their housing rent-free. In return, the treatment center charges the client’s insurance as much as they can. Some particularly shady “sober” homes even provide drugs to the clients. This keeps them in the house while the owners continue charging the insurance.
Since many treatment clients are fairly young, the Florida shuffle makes great use of provisions allowing dependents to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they reach 26 years of age. Once they reach this age, the clients in question find themselves facing a choice. Do they sober up and get out of the shuffle? Or do they keep using and try to fend for themselves on the streets?
Even those who truly wish to recover often get lost in the shuffle. In early recovery, we generally lack the inhibitions to turn down offers of free drugs or alcohol. The temptation simply overrides our better sense. So when the unwitting client winds up in a trap house or other illegitimate facility, they stand little chance. Many find themselves trapped in an ongoing relapse cycle. Some do not make it out alive.
Avoiding Insurance Schemes
The first thing to beware when choosing a treatment center is their emphasis on insurance. Naturally, insurance makes things easier than self-pay. But when a treatment center, sober home or similar facility seems too quick to offer free goods or services, this may indicate foul play. Especially look out for those who offer free rent in sober homes to clients with insurance programs.
Furthermore, when you believe that you might be swept up in the Florida shuffle, you need to contact your insurance provider directly. Untrustworthy facilities will not simply make a few fraudulent claims. They make as many as they possibly can. If they believe they can get away with it, they may even file multiple charges per day. When interviewed by NBC, Cigna claimed that many treatment centers charge insanely excessive amounts for simple drug tests. Not only that, but some will even charge multiple urine tests per day. We can tell you from experience that no treatment center needs to perform urinary analysis at such a rate.
Some treatment centers partner with laboratories or doctors to run these kinds of scams. You don’t need to worry about the details in order to take care of it. Verify the facts of the insurance bill before doing anything else. If they don’t add up, your provider should help you get to the bottom of it. By keeping yourself safe from these types of schemes, you just may bring to light a massively illegal operation. In so doing, you stand to help countless others avoid getting caught up in the Florida shuffle.
Choosing the Right Sober Home
Getting into the right treatment facility makes for a good start. But if you wish to ensure long-term recovery, some sort of aftercare program usually helps. This means that you need to consider moving into a sober living house after the initial phases of treatment. Unfortunately, some of these houses comprise one of the worst aspects of the Florida shuffle.
Sober living homes, in and of themselves, pose no threat. The best ones promise structured living in a like-minded community of recovering addicts and alcoholics. Hidden among them, however, you find houses in which clients continue their substance abuse with impunity. We already discussed the need to remain wary of offers such as free rent. But you should look out for a few other signs as well.
First, try and see if you can check out the house beforehand. Not all sober living homes will allow you to tour them, for good reason. Allowing you under their roof puts them at risk of potential privacy violations. You might specifically ask to tour the house after the tenants leave for work, but some may still refuse. This does not mean the house is shady; it might even be a good sign that they care about their clients’ privacy. Nonetheless, it’s worth asking.
If they do allow you to take a tour, keep an eye out for signs of lax recovery. Good house managers value clean living in more than one sense of the word. A dirty house filled with unemployed tenants might not set you up for the Florida shuffle. But it doesn’t bode well for the promise of structured living, either.
Also try to learn what you can about the house’s ownership. Again, this won’t tell you everything. In recovery, we can’t judge a person’s present by their past misdeeds. That said, houses in which the owners or house managers have a reputation for patient brokering, HIPAA violations or other such violations should probably not top your list of preferred living arrangements. And while one or two overdoses in the past do not necessarily say anything about the house’s viability, an excessive history of such occurrences indicates that you might want to look elsewhere.
When researching the house, check for FARR certification. Sober homes certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences usually stand the test of legitimacy. Again, lack of FARR certification does not necessarily mean anything. Although dishonesty might, so double-check at FARROnline.org to ensure that you received a credible answer from the managers.
In the end, we can’t provide you with a perfect method of assessing halfway houses or any other facility. Aside from reputation, the best thing to judge might be your gut instinct. If something feels off, you might want to heed that feeling. Because even if that feeling turns out to be wrong, you can never be too careful when making a decision like this. When trying to avoid getting caught up in the Florida shuffle, one wrong turn could mean the difference between life and death.
Preventing Overdose Death
As promised, we would like to conclude by talking about what to do if you find yourself at risk. If it becomes clear that your treatment facility or sober living home cares more about your insurance than your recovery, you need to act fast. There is a time for meekness and humility; this is not that time. We cannot say with enough gravity that you stand little chance of recovery in a flop house. You must seek a safe location, with staff who values your recovery as much as they value their own.
Until you can find a better facility, do everything you can to hang in there. Call your sponsor, or someone you can trust. If you must, leave the house and do not go back until you can pick up your stuff and go somewhere else. Whatever you do, please do not give in to temptation. You have it within you to be stronger than the culture around you. Even surrounded by shady patient brokers and active users, you can make it out with both your life and your sobriety intact. Remain strong, and keep seeking a better solution. And if you need one immediately, call someone from our facility and we will try to help you make arrangements as soon as possible, whether with us or with another reliable institution.
If you’re trying to beat the Florida shuffle and looking for a safe place to do it, contact us today for more information on our programs. Sobriety is a dangerous business these days. We’ll do our part to help keep you from getting lost to the shuffle.