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Senate Bill 486 would have prohibited commercially operated substance abuse recovery residences from engaging in patient brokering. File photo

Sober living bill blocked in state senate

REGION — A bill languishing in the California Senate for more than one year was blocked by the Health Committee on Jan. 15.

Senate Bill 486 was introduced by Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and would have prohibited commercially operated substance abuse recovery residences, also known as sober living homes, from engaging in patient brokering.

Bates has longed battled the loopholes within the industry, especially in Orange County, which has been tagged as the “Rehab Riviera.” Patient brokering has also long been a target for Bates as she wants to stop the practice of commercial entities paying one another to bring a patient to their facility.

“It’s sad that today’s decision means that patient brokering for sober living homes will continue for the foreseeable future,” said Bates. “While passing any kind of state legislation regulating sober living homes is challenging given potential conflicts with federal law, we must continue to do what we can to stop fraud and hold dishonest commercial operators accountable. I will continue to work with stakeholders to try to address concerns.”

According to the bill, SB 486 would have added commercially operated recovery residences to the list of entities not allowed to give or receive anything of value for the referral of an individual seeking alcoholism or drug abuse recovery and treatment services. It also adds a $50,000 penalty for violations.

Bates said the bill was designed to prevent insurance fraud and abusive practices resulting from provider decisions that are based on self-interest rather than matching people with appropriate treatment.

The County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California supported the bill, while the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals supported it if amended, saying the $50,000 fine was excessive. In addition, the group said local governments may entertain “disparate zoning for commercial and non-commercial homes, thereby zoning recovery residences out of residential neighborhoods.”

Disability Rights California (DRC), a nonprofit legal service for people with disabilities, opposed the bill, saying it violated state and federal fair housing laws regarding people with disabilities.

State law does not apply to commercially operated recovery residences due to concerns that it would conflict with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The act protects people who are recovering from substance abuse from laws judged “discriminatory” because they are considered legally “disabled.”

Curt Child, director of legislation with DRC, said the flaw with the bill is it puts restrictions on recovery residents who are protected by the Fair Housing Act. He believes Bates’ intentions were not malicious and agreed patient brokering is something his organization “abhors” and is detrimental to their clients.

Child said he and the DRC are open to working with Bates on future legislation addressing both parties’ concerns and to help those patients being used.

“It doesn’t serve our clients well in what some of these providers are engaging in,” he said. “Our concern is once you step over into Fair Housing law and putting limitations on individuals who are living together … that’s when we think there are particular problems.”

Messages left with Senate Health Committee Chairman Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) were not returned.