Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg received an award this month for his work tackling fraud in the sober home community across the county.
Aronberg received the Apollo award from The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a Washington-based policy and research group, in Orlando on June 5 for his “distinction in combating insurance fraud.”
Aronberg helped create the Palm Beach County Sober Homes Task Force to help combat those sober home owners and treatment centers who profited off their patients’ insurance claims and those who received kickbacks for referring patients.
A Palm Beach Post investigation revealed details about local sober homes and treatment centers conducting unnecessary and expensive drug testing on patients. A single urine test, used to determine if a patient was using drugs, could cost thousands of dollars, and some patients were required to take the tests daily.
In many cases, a Post investigation found, patients were relapsing and dying while they were in the care or recently in the care of these sober homes. In 2016, nearly 600 people died in Palm Beach County from suspected opioid overdoses.
In a phone interview, Aronberg said the fraud aspect is one of the main “movers” of the opioid epidemic.
“Meaning, without insurance fraud you wouldn’t see the proliferation of rogue sober homes,” he said. “Their life blood is patient brokering.”
Since the task force’s birth, the State Attorney’s Office has made dozens of arrests for patient brokering. Aronberg has testified before Congress on the issues and goes across the country to present best practices and answer questions for other jurisdictions, “trying to bring the rest of the country up to speed.”
Aronberg said the task force has made a substantial amount of progress, but that there’s more to do. He said he knows law enforcement is usually the first line of defense when it comes to insurance fraud in these cases, but he hopes more preventive measures and vigilance by the insurance companies may find these fraudulent practices sooner.
“The fact is, we’re all in this together and we’re trying to train and educate other communities through the country to help with this problem,” he said.