Sponsors cited the rise of healthcare consumerism in proposing the bill, which passed unanimously in the State Senate
In what appears to be a step forward in fostering more consumerism in healthcare, the Pennsylvania State Senate has unanimously passed Senate Bill 712 which removes the state’s prohibition on consumer advertising by clinical laboratories. The bill passed on a 45-0 vote and amends the state’s Clinical Laboratory Act, originally enacted in 1951. It now heads to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The newly approved legislation will “eliminate regulations preventing patients from learning about diagnostic testing and services provided by local clinical laboratories,” according to a press release issued by the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.
Republican state Senator Rosemary Brown was the bill’s primary sponsor. She was joined as co-sponsors by a bipartisan group of colleagues.
“The regulations prevent patients from learning about clinical laboratories and the services they provide,” Brown said in the press release. “Patients deserve to know about their options when they are selecting a clinical laboratory to perform these important tests and procedures.”
The press release noted that Pennsylvania is the only state that prohibits clinical laboratories from advertising to residents.
“It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up with the rest of the nation and enable patients to have access to this information,” said co-sponsor of the bill Republican Senator Tracy Pennycuick (above) in a press release. “Our bill would enable advertising while maintaining the important consumer protection provisions that ensure tests and procedures can only be performed based on a doctor’s order.” Once enacted into law, clinical laboratories in Pennsylvania will be able to advertise their services just like labs in other US states. (Photo copyright: Montgomery County Republican Committee.)
Details of Senate Bill 712
The bill applies to clinical laboratory tests ordered by licensed healthcare practitioners and performed by the medical laboratories themselves. Labs are prohibited from making claims “about the reliability and validity of the testing that is inconsistent with the testing proficiency standards” in federal law, the bill states, and labs must disclose that the test “may or may not be covered by health insurance.”
Brown, Pennycuick, and co-sponsor Republican Senator Lynda Schlegel Culver, discussed the need for the new legislation in a March 2023 memo, observing that 70% of healthcare decisions are influenced by clinical laboratory tests.
“As our state and the nation’s healthcare system continues to grow and evolve, consumers are demanding greater transparency and to be more engaged in how healthcare is delivered to them,” they wrote, adding that the state’s current restrictions are “outdated.”
“We believe permitting outreach to Pennsylvania consumers with accurate, scientifically based diagnostic information can be a source of personalized, highly relevant insight to help foster better, more informed dialogue with licensed healthcare providers, which enables Pennsylvania consumers to take action to improve their health,” they wrote.
“Patients should have access to information about the services and procedures available at their local clinical laboratories,” said Senator Culver in the press release. “I want to make sure patients can make informed decisions about where and how to obtain these important health services. Our bill would remove the gag order on this specific set of healthcare services.”
Larger Push for Healthcare Consumerism
Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report have reported extensively about the rise of consumerism in healthcare—including factors such as price transparency—as it applies to medical laboratories.
In “Pathology Groups and Clinical Laboratories Have Unique Opportunity to Take Leadership Role in Healthcare Consumerism,” we reported how employers and healthcare policymakers are seeking ways for consumers to take more active roles in their healthcare. That includes requiring more out-of-pocket payments from patients to control prices, and quality metrics, so patients can select hospitals, doctors, and clinical laboratories based on price and performance.
And in “Millennials Set to Reorder Healthcare and Lab Testing,” The Dark Report advised clinical laboratories on the need to reconfigure key aspects of their services to accommodate the rising numbers of Millennials in the workforce. For example, these consumers are accustomed to using mobile devices to interact with retailers and want the same convenience when obtaining healthcare services from doctors and labs.
Global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company addressed many of these issues in report titled, “Driving Growth through Consumer Centricity in Healthcare.” The authors suggested that healthcare providers need to “redefine the consumer experience” by emulating “consumer-focused companies in other sectors” with “personalized offerings and services, value-based pricing, and an elevated experience—all from distinctive, high-quality brands.”
The report also noted that providers still have a lot of work to do. “Many consumers believe that the health system does not support their care needs, and they perceive that the quality of their healthcare is negatively affected by their personal attributes, including income, insurance coverage, weight, and age, among other factors,” the authors wrote.
Huron, a healthcare consulting company, identified five current trends in healthcare consumerism based on a survey of US consumers, Healthcare Dive reported. They are:
- Greater digital functionality, including telehealth, wearable devices to report health data, and mobile apps for scheduling, communication, and payment.
- Affordability, shorter wait times, and online ratings as factors driving consumers to choose providers.
- Accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans as drivers of consumer satisfaction.
- Increasing demand for technology-enabled conveniences such as virtual care.
- More price transparency in response to concerns about affordability.
Pennsylvania’s decision to join the rest of the nation and allow clinical laboratories to advertise their services may be evidence that the growing number of consumers who want direct access to medical care and the ability to choose their provider—be it hospital, physician, or clinical laboratory—are encouraging the pathology and medical laboratory professions to lobby their state lawmakers to make it easier to advertise their services to the public.