Sometimes labels are necessary. We use them to categorize and to organize things or people. For example, we can slap a label on a folder for bills that have been paid so they are not confused with those which have not been paid. We also can categorize people by labeling them as introverted or extroverted. An article reported on the Web site for the Center for Investigative Reporting details the story of a Southern California physician who labeled hundreds of teenage clients as drug addicts. (That’s definitely not a desirable label) in order to falsely bill the state’s Drug Medi-Cal rehabilitation program $46 million.

The article states that the doctor worked for one of the biggest Drug Medi-Cal counseling clinics in Los Angeles County. Dozens of similar counseling clinics across the state were also suspected of questionable billing practices and reportedly collected approximately $94 million from the state and federal government program. In a larger investigation, it was found that bills were submitted for counseling sessions that never occurred. Apparently, some patients were bribed to come in for a rehab session with cigarettes or cash.

While the Redondo Beach doctor was medical director at the rehabilitation clinic, he authorized counselors to meet with students at local middle and high schools. (His clinic purportedly served 770 clients before being shut down.) He would then certify that some of the teens needed substance abuse treatment even though they were not currently using drugs, had used them in the past or only on an occasional basis.

The doctor pleaded guilty to falsely identifying teenagers as drug or alcohol addicts. His plea is one of the most significant in an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the troubled rehab program. Four counselors at the clinic where he worked previously pleaded guilty to fraud for their part in the scam. Funding to 235 clinic sites in California has been frozen while the state is working on creating new rules to govern the government assistance plan.

Labeling low-income youth as addicts to justify false billing to the government is just plain wrong. Not only is it fraudulent, but it also assigns an incorrect and undesirable label to these young adults that may follow them the rest of their lives. (In this case, the doctor will also acquire a label, but one that he deserves – criminal.) He will also have a permanent prison record that will always associate him with his fraudulent actions.

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