Body Brokers: The business of making billions out of drug addiction

Written and directed by John Swab

Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 required health care providers to cover substance abuse treatment. Body Brokers, a fiction film written and directed by John Swab, deals with how the act spawned a predatory business of drug treatment that allowed rehab centers to scam the federal government and insurance companies out of millions of dollars. This is one of the disastrous side-effects of health care for profit.

The film opens with narrator/actor Frank Grillo listing a hair-raising statistical reality. Since Obamacare was passed, nearly 2,000 “sober living” houses, 100 in-patient treatment centers and 200 detox facilities have opened up in Southern California alone. That is nearly 35,000 beds that need to be filled each month, and almost 500,000 that need to be filled annually, bringing a profit to private companies of some $12 billion annually—again, just in Southern California.

Market Research gloated in 2020 that “Drug and alcohol addiction rehab in the United States is big business—worth $42 billion this year. There are now 15,000+ private treatment facilities and growing.”

Michael K. Williams and Jack Kilmer in Body Brokers

Body Brokers’ storyline follows Utah (Jack Kilmer, son of actors Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley) and Opal (Alice Englert), two heroin/cocaine addicts in Ohio, committing robberies to sustain their habits. These are two sensitive young people whose lives are spiraling downward. A chance encounter with Wood (the immensely talented Michael K. Williams—who last September tragically succumbed to acute drug intoxication) gets Utah into a Los Angeles drug treatment center. Utah soon learns that the rehab facility is actually a cover for a fraudulent multi-billion-dollar operation and that Wood functions as a “broker” on behalf of the facility.

Melissa Leo plays Dr. White, the rehab’s therapist, and Grillo is its owner Vin, whose slick, mendacious pep talks hide a homicidal personality. After 90 days in treatment, Utah becomes Wood’s sidekick, making a small fortune enlisting addicts whose stay at the center is funded by insurance companies or government agencies. He soon learns that the system has no incentive to cure addiction, but rather to create repeat business. Like Wood, Utah begins “brokering bodies” as referrals to the facility.

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