One medical testing company was led by a convicted felon, another was accused of delays and unreliable results
Like many states, Florida has worked hard to quickly ramp up diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness. For the most part this has been a good thing. However, local media in that state reported problems with two no-bid contracts for clinical laboratory testing, including one with a Dallas-based company whose founder pleaded guilty last year to two felonies involving insurance fraud.
In a press conference announcing the two deals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “We have two contracts in place with two new labs that will increase our lab capacity by 18,000 samples per day.” He added that he expected a 24- to 48-hour turnaround.
“That’s a lot better than we’ve been getting from Quest and LabCorp,” he said. “These labs will be primarily where we send our samples that we collect in the long-term-care and assisted-living facilities and at the community-based walk-up sites.”
The announcement followed DeSantis’ March 9 emergency decree, which allowed state agencies to award contracts to companies without undergoing formal bidding processes, reported Florida Bulldog, an independent non-profit news site.
In his announcement, DeSantis did not identify the companies that had received the lab test contracts. However, Florida Bulldog reported that those companies were:
- Indur Services, a Dallas-based health-coaching company, and
- Southwest Regional PCR, a CAP-accredited lab in Lubbock, Texas, that does business as MicroGenDX Laboratory (MicroGen Diagnostics, LLC).
The Indur contract—initially valued at $11.3 million—included $10.2 million for 140,000 COVID-19 RT-qPCR test kits, plus additional payment for supplies, Florida Bulldog reported based on information from the state contract database. Later, the contract was reduced to $2.2 million solely for supplies.
The MicroGenDX contract—valued at $11 million—called for 8,000 tests per day for 14 days at a cost of $99 per test, Florida Bulldog reported. That contract was later cancelled due to concerns about reliability and processing speed.
Indur’s Legal Troubles
Indur is a self-described “health and wellness lifestyle and products company” founded in 2017 by Brandt Beal, according to Business Insider. In 2019, Beal pleaded guilty to two felonies involving insurance fraud in Texas and was given 10 years’ probation in each case, Florida Bulldog reported. He also was required to pay restitution. He pleaded guilty to a separate charge of felony theft in 2017 and was sentenced to nine years’ probation.
In an interview with Florida Bulldog, Beal claimed that “the man who pleaded guilty to those charges is actually his cousin with the same name.” However, Beal “would not provide requested contact information for his cousin,” the Florida Bulldog reported, which posted photos demonstrating that the Indur founder and the person who pleaded guilty to the felonies were the same individual.
The amended contract, valued at $2.2 million, called for Indur to deliver swabs and vials. “To date, everything that’s been ordered they’ve delivered on,” said Jared Moskowitz, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management department.
Testing Delays Snag MicroGen Diagnostics
The state cancelled its contract with MicroGenDX on May 15, Florida Bulldog reported.
“As with any lab, we do our due diligence to ensure the company will be able to provide reliable services before sending any samples,” said Jason Mahon, Communications Director at the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Upon further interaction with this vendor, the Division determined that the state could not be 100% confident in the results that would come from this vendor, or with the processing speed, which is critical for COVID-19 testing.”
This came as AdventHealth, a non-profit health system based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., was having its own difficulties with MicroGenDX.
On May 16, AdventHealth announced that it had terminated a COVID-19 testing contract with an unnamed third-party lab, claiming that the provider was “unable to fulfill its obligation.” Multiple media outlets later revealed MicroGenDX as the third-party lab, and USA Today reported that the FDA had launched an investigation.
“This issue impacts more than 25,000 people throughout Central Florida,” stated an AdventHealth press release. “This situation has created unacceptable delays and we do not have confidence in the reliability of the tests.” AdventHealth said it would contact affected individuals about the need for retesting.
However, MicroGenDX CEO Rick Martin refuted the health system’s claims. “You can go after me because I didn’t meet your capacity and I couldn’t deliver on your drive-through testing because of things that I couldn’t control, but don’t attack the reliability of my test,” he told the Orlando Sentinel.
According to MicroGenDX, the company received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA on April 23 for an internally-developed RT-PCR test that can be performed on nasal swabs or sputum samples, noted a press release. The tests are run in the company’s lab facility in Lubbock, Texas.
One factor in the dispute was the handling of patient samples, USA Today reported. Martin told reporters that representatives from AdventHealth had visited the lab and observed samples that were stored at room temperature. “[Martin] maintains the samples were still valid and that the delays were due to AdventHealth not providing proper patient data and the lab running out of plastic parts used in its equipment,” noted USA Today.
Mahon told Florida Bulldog that the state did not send samples to MicroGenDX for processing. And the Florida Bulldog reported that Martin said his lab was so “hammered with huge volumes of samples” that he would have turned down any requests, adding that Martin “stood by the reliability and accuracy of his firm’s testing and said he looks forward to a day of vindication after federal inspectors conduct any inquiries.”
Martin has had his own legal troubles. According to USA Today, he was indicted by the US Department of Justice Middle District of Florida in 2017 for participating in a kickback scheme while working as a sales rep for Advanced BioHealing, Inc., of Westport, Conn. However, Martin was acquitted in a February 2019 trial, and Advanced BioHealing’s CEO Kevin Rakin settled the False Claims Act allegations for $2.5 million.
Collectively, these news stories scratch the surface of a bigger situation involving COVID-19 laboratory testing. The fact that Congress authorized billions of dollars to fund COVID-19 testing was noticed by some individuals who saw the funding as an opportunity to “make a quick buck” if they could get contracts to provide COVID-19 testing—whether they owned a CLIA-certified complex laboratory or not.
Thus, it’s no surprise that more companies are bidding on COVID-19 testing contracts. What remains unknown is how many of those companies are actively soliciting COVID-19 testing contracts throughout the United States.
Given this situation, and the facts recounted above, it is reasonable to ask an obvious question: Why did Florida state officials not do a more rigorous check into the credentials of the clinical laboratory entities they were preparing to award no-competitive-bid contracts to for COVID-19 testing?