In July, a panel of industry executives appeared before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, providing frank testimony about patient brokering, fraud and deceptive marketing. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told the panel, “Don’t always look to Congress” to regulate fraudulent activity.
Recent efforts seem to indicate that the addiction treatment industry is indeed looking to self-regulate rather than wait for legislation to catch up.
First, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) updated its code of ethics for 2018 and began enforcing member compliance on Jan. 1. Additionally, Google and—as of last week—Facebook began requiring certification by a third-party reviewer for any treatment center looking to purchase digital advertising.
NAATP’s enforcement strategy includes an evaluation process and the exclusion of organizations that fail to meet the association’s ethics standards. According to NAATP Executive Director Marvin Ventrell, two dozen organizations comprised of nearly 100 facilities have been excluded from membership this year because they weren’t able to meet the criteria.
“There aren’t a high number of reviews,” Ventrell says. “It’s just a handful of folks, and the process seems to be working well.”
And the goal, of course, is to raise industry standards across the board, not to exclude organizations from membership. He says in the majority of cases, the centers under review just need some refinement to meet the ethics requirements—not a dramatic retooling.
“Ideally, I’d like to not be doing any of this,” Ventrell tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “I’d rather be working on program improvements and systemic delivery systems and not focus on enforcing ethics. But it’s plain that our industry and our association won’t survive if we don’t take care of this business first.”
He says the two most common areas of concern with member evaluations are usually website content and licensing or accreditation issues.
When Ventrell testified before the House committee in July, he was emphatic about the importance of transparency in digital marketing. For example, he told the congressmen that NAATP organizations must identify themselves as the proprietor of their websites and not allow a small “information” link buried somewhere on the site to suffice as reasonable notification to consumers of who is actually behind the online content.
Undoubtedly there was some trepidation at first about NAATP enforcing ethics requirements. But Ventrell says members have since expressed feelings of gratification, knowing that there’s a new trustworthiness established through membership. Compliance with the ethics code also validates their businesses for consumers looking for treatment options.
Membership is at an all-time high, Ventrell says, with 860 campuses represented. And after the House committee hearing, several provider organizations contacted NAATP seeking membership. The interest validates the fact that the vast majority of treatment providers are honest and want to differentiate themselves by their business ethics.
Last month, addiction treatment providers also began receiving their certifications from LegitScript—the third-party verifying organization for clearance to bid on Google Ads and advertise on Facebook’s multiple platforms. So far, 40 parent companies and more than 300 facilities have been certified.
Ventrell is among those consulting with LegitScript for the ongoing refinement of the vetting process. Treatment centers must meet 15 requirements to earn certification. However, NAATP will not rely on LegitScript certification as a proxy for membership evaluation, he says.
While LegitScript criteria are rigorous and consistent with the NAATP ethics code, the association’s board essentially views the certification as a positive indicator. As a group of providers itself, the association is in a unique position to consider conduct and compliance in a real-world context, Ventrell says.
“What criteria can’t identify—especially from an outside agency that doesn’t have the experience and connection to the field that we have—is the nuances of the culture of an organization that might be problematic,” he says. “That’s where it gets difficult.”
In time, hundreds more facilities are expected to earn LegitScript certification. Meanwhile, Congress is continuing its investigation of advertising and marketing tactics—an examination that has been going on for more than a year.