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British Junior Doctors Stage Four-Day Walkout Demanding Increased Pay and Better Working Conditions

More than 10,000 doctors walked out for the second time in two months, further burdening an already overwhelmed NHS

On April 11, tens of thousands of junior doctors (similar to medical residents in the US) left their posts in British hospitals commencing a four-day walkout. The strike resulted in the cancellation of thousands of operations and appointments, as well as cancelling or delaying thousands of clinical laboratory tests and anatomic pathology readings associated with those healthcare visits and surgical procedures.

The walkout was spurred by pay concerns and working conditions and comes on the heels of a three-day strike last month. That strike had already weakened the UK’s frail National Health System (NHS), which has become inundated with appointment backlogs that predate the COVID-19 pandemic, and which has led to longer wait times to see a doctor, ABC News reported.

This latest strike was more perilous since the senior doctors who covered for their juniors during last month’s strike were previously on leave for a holiday weekend, United Press International (UPI) reported.

Matthew Taylor

“These strikes are going to have a catastrophic impact on the capacity of the NHS to recover,” Matthew Taylor (above), Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, told Sky News. “The health service has to meet high levels of demand at the same time as making inroads into that huge backlog … That’s a tough thing to do at the best of times—it’s impossible to do when strikes are continuing.” (Photo copyright: Wikimedia Commons.)

Junior Docs Cite Injustice

Junior doctors who walked out are calling for a 35% pay raise to right the wrongs of 15 years of below-inflation raises, but the government continues to argue it cannot afford to increase pay, UPI noted.

“There is nothing ‘junior’ about the work I have done as a doctor. For an hour of work that I might save a life, I can be paid 19£ [$23.65],” said Jennifer Barclay, MD, a surgical junior doctor in the UK’s North West electoral zone, in a British Medical Association (BMA) press release.

“My dad, an electrician, tells me to quit and retrain in his footsteps. I’d be earning more, have less stress, less responsibility, better hours, and a better work-life balance after three years,” she added. “Surely, this life, this training, responsibility, debt, and crushing workload is worth more than 19£ per hour? I’ll be on the picket line this week because doctors believe that it is.”

According to the BMA, newly qualified junior doctors earn just over 14£ ($17.43) per hour, ABC News reported, which added, “The doctors’ union has asked for a 35% pay rise to bring junior doctor pay back to 2008 levels.”

However, their pay demands come in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis in the UK. Inflation has risen above 10%. Paired with increases in heating costs and food prices mean that decreased wages leave many struggling to pay bills, ABC news reports.

A hard-hitting BMA advertising campaign designed to shine light on these disparities depicts three junior doctors (with one-, seven-, and 10-years’ experience) removing an appendix. The video shows that the total the three would be paid for the hour-long operation would be 66.55£ ($82.84):

  • Doctor with one year experience: 14.09£ ($17.54).
  • Doctor with two years’ experience: 24.46£ ($30.45).
  • Doctor with three years’ experience: 28£ ($34.85).

And this for performing a potentially life-saving procedure, the BMA stated.

In the press release, BMA Junior Doctors Committee co-chairs Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi said, “It is appalling that this government feels that paying three junior doctors as little as 66.55£ between them for work of this value is justified. This is highly skilled work requiring years of study and intensive training in a high-pressure environment where the job can be a matter of life or death.”

Patient Care is Affected

Lower salaries also affect patient care levels and have led to recruitment issues, with many doctors leaving the profession, the BBC reported. “This is not a situation where we are fixed in our position. We’re looking for negotiations and Steve Barclay (UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) isn’t even willing to talk to us. He hasn’t put any offer at all on the table … there has to be two sides in the discussion,” Emma Runswick, MD, a junior doctor and deputy chairwoman of the BMA, told the BBC.

But while the junior doctors battle for wages, the government’s initial focus has been on patient wellbeing. “There will be risks to patient safety, risks to patient dignity, as we are not able to provide the kind of care we want to,” NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor told UPI prior to the walkout.

The timing of the walkout also caused consternation with the NHS. “Not only will walkouts risk patient safety, but they have been timed to maximize disruption after the Easter break,” Health Secretary Barclay told UPI as the walkout was announced.

Barclay also claimed the amount sought by doctors was “unreasonable” and would cause raises above $25,000 per year, UPI reported. “If the BMA is willing to move significantly from this position and cancel strikes, we can resume confidential talks and find a way forward as we have done with other unions,” he stated.

It is important to note that doctors would be pulled from picket lines if immediate danger were present due to trade union laws that say life-and-limb coverage must be provided, the BMA told the BBC.

—Kristin Althea O’Connor

Related Information:

Junior Doctors’ Strike: Patient Care ‘On a Knife Edge’ as Up to 350,000 Appointments Could Be Cancelled During Four-Day Walkout

British Doctors Walk Out of Hospitals at Start of Crippling Four-Day Strike

Tens of Thousands of Doctors in Britain to Participate in 4-Day Walkout

Three Junior Doctors Would Earn Just 66£ Between Them for Taking Out Your Appendix, says BMA in New Advertising Campaign

English Docs Strike Could be Catastrophic, Officials Say”

Junior Doctors’ Strike Puts Patients at More Risk-Barclay

HSN Explains What a Junior Doctor Is

NHS System Explained

Why Is Britain’s Health Service, a Much-Loved National Treasure, Falling Apart?

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Fights Prison Sentence While Claiming She Was ‘Not Being Authentic’ with Public Image

Founder of now defunct clinical laboratory testing company was supposed to report to prison April 27, but a last-minute legal challenge has delayed that judge’s order

Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders who are following the continuing saga of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes may be interested to learn that the former CEO’s attorneys are making last-minute legal moves to delay her prison sentence while she appeals her guilty verdict. At the same time, Holmes appears to be on a mission to revamp her public image.

Apparently, the twists and turns in Holmes’ never-ending story are not yet over when it comes to Theranos, its maligned clinical laboratory technology, and the company’s convicted founder.

On May 7, The New York Times (NYT) profiled Holmes in a massive, 5,000-word story that attempted to portray her as a flawed businessperson who now prefers a simpler life with her partner and two young children.

Elizabeth Holmes

“I made so many mistakes and there was so much I didn’t know and understand, and I feel like when you do it wrong, it’s like you really internalize it in a deep way,” disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes recently told The New York Times. Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory directors impacted by the revelation that Theranos hide the fact that its blood testing technology was faulty may not sympathize with Holmes’ position. (Photo copyright: Stuart Isett/Fortune Global Forum.)

Legal Team Secures Last-Minute Delay in Holmes’ Surrender

Holmes admitted to the news outlet that the deep voice she used in public, along with her black turtleneck sweaters, were part of a character she created.

“I believed it would be how I would be good at business and taken seriously and not taken as a little girl or a girl who didn’t have good technical ideas,” Holmes told the NYT. “Maybe people picked up on that not being authentic, since it wasn’t.”

Holmes was scheduled to report to a federal prison in Texas on April 27 after several unsuccessful motions were filed to delay the start of her sentence for the fraud convictions. Dark Daily covered Holmes’ conviction in “Disgraced Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes to Serve 11 Years, Three Months in Prison, Ending the Latest Chapter in the Story of the Failed Clinical Laboratory Company.”

However, on April 26, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed her surrender date until that court rules on Holmes’ latest bid to stay free while she appeals her conviction, The Washington Post reported.

Just days earlier on April 10, a district court judge ruled that Holmes would not stay free while her appeal progresses. The 9th Circuit announcement curtailed the district court ruling. It is not known when the 9th Circuit will issue a decision in the matter.

In “Theranos Ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes Convicted on Three Counts of Wire Fraud and One Count of Conspiracy to Commit Fraud after Seven Days of Jury Deliberations,” Dark Daily reported that Holmes was convicted in January 2022 of defrauding Theranos investors out of $121 million. Theranos marketed a blood-testing machine called Edison, although it was later uncovered that results attributable to the technology were actually produced on traditional clinical laboratory analyzers.

New York Times Reports on Holmes’ Change in Personality

The somewhat odd New York Times profile of Holmes varied between reflections on her past crimes and on her current personal life, where she is known as “Liz.”

“In case you’re wondering, Holmes speaks in a soft, slightly low, but totally unremarkable voice—no hint of the throaty contralto she used while running her blood-testing startup Theranos, now defunct,” the NYT reported.

Holmes still lives in California with her partner, Billy Evans (whose parents own a luxury hotel chain), and their two children: a son who is almost two years old and a daughter born in February. She works at home for a rape-crisis hotline.

Balwani’s Role in Theranos Again Publicly Debated

In the NYT interview, Holmes talked about being raped while a student at Stanford University and about alleged abuse from her Theranos business partner and former lover, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.

Balwani, Theranos’ former President and Chief Operating Officer, began his 12-year, 11-month prison sentence on April 20 in a Southern California facility for his role in defrauding Theranos investors, KTVU TV reported. Balwani has also appealed his conviction on the 12 fraud charges.

Holmes reiterated to the NYT past statements she made in court that Balwani allegedly exerted social and sexual control over her when they both worked at Theranos and were in a romantic relationship.

“She lived by entrepreneurial tenets that she said Balwani told her she needed to follow in order to succeed,” the NYT reported. “These included not sleeping for more than five hours, going vegan, getting to the office daily by 5 a.m., no alcohol.”

“[I] deferred to [Balwani] in the areas he oversaw because I believed he knew better than I did,” including on clinical lab activities at Theranos, Holmes said.

Balwani’s attorneys dismissed Holmes’ allegations, as they have in the past.

Clinical laboratory professionals can reasonably make two broad observations from the continuing saga of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes:

  • Justice for healthcare crimes is often deferred for those who have influence and money.
  • Holmes’ image overhaul may be a last-ditch effort to sway public opinion about her, in the event that she receives a new jury trial as a result of her appeal.

Dark Daily will continue to keep you updated on further developments in this case.

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

Liz Holmes Wants You to Forget about Elizabeth

Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled with Its Blood-Test Technology

Theranos Ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes Convicted on Three Counts of Wire Fraud and One Count of Conspiracy to Commit Fraud after Seven Days of Jury Deliberations

Holmes, Balwani Get Lengthy Prison Terms for Theranos Fraud

Disgraced Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes to Serve 11 Years, Three Months in Prison, Ending the Latest Chapter in the Story of the Failed Clinical Laboratory Company

Federal Prosecutors Seek $878 Million Restitution from Former Theranos Founder/CEO Elizabeth Holmes

Efforts to Allow FDA Oversight of Clinical Laboratory-Developed Tests Continue in New Congress

The VALID Act has been refiled and the FDA has declared its intent to issue a proposed rule to enable it to oversee LDTs

Should the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the authority to regulate laboratory-developed tests (LDT)? Advocates in favor of this outcome are working to make FDA oversight of LDTs a reality.

On March 29, HR.2369—the Verifying Accurate Leading-edge IVCT Development Act of 2023 (VALID Act)—was refiled in the US House of Representatives by Representatives Larry Bucshon, MD, (R-IN) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). The 273-page proposal would move LDT oversight to the FDA.

Prior to that, however, the FDA had already announced its intention to issue a proposed rule giving the agency regulatory oversight of LDTs.

“The FDA has continually supported the passage of the VALID Act by Congress,” attorney Charles Dunham IV, a Shareholder at Greenberg Traurig LLP in Houston, told Dark Daily. “In fact, there is speculation that the VALID Act will be attached to the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act as it moves through Congress.”

Dunham is moderating a legal panel at next week’s 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, which takes place April 28-26 in New Orleans. The VALID Act and other lab-related legal topics will be discussed by attorneys on the panel.

Charles Dunham IV

“The FDA may not actually proceed with promulgating rules to regulate LDTs if it is concerned it will not be successful in court if the rules are challenged, which would happen,” said attorney Charles Dunham IV (above), a Shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Clinical laboratory leaders can learn more from Dunham during a panel discussion at next week’s 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management in New Orleans. (Photo copyright: Greenberg Traurig LLP.)

Arguments For and Against FDA LDT Regulation of LDTs

Supporters of the VALID Act contend that putting LDTs under FDA regulation will lead to improved patient safety and less review for low-risk tests. Their argument is that LDTs should undergo the same FDA review and approval process as other medical devices.

Hospital laboratory managers and pathologists—particularly in academic medical center laboratories—have largely opposed FDA regulation of LDTs. They prefer to keep the current setup under which lab-developed tests are validated under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). They argue that FDA intervention will slow down development of new tests.

In fact, it was academic medical center pathologists who led the fight against the VALID Act in the last session of Congress, as Dark Daily reported in “Congress Holds Off on Enabling FDA Regulation of Clinical Laboratory-Developed Tests.” Lawmakers eventually chose not to include the VALID Act in the 2022 year-end spending bill.

In response, an FDA official indicated during the American Clinical Laboratory Association’s (ACLA) annual meeting on March 1 that the federal agency plans to issue a proposed rule to regulate LDTs, BioWorld reported. That rulemaking has not yet emerged. It’s possible the FDA will wait and see what happens in Congress with the VALID Act.

Attorney David Gee, JD, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle, told Dark Daily that a US Supreme Court decision last year concerning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) casts doubt on the FDA’s ability to regulate LDTs.

“Some legal experts have suggested that one significant new legal challenge FDA may face is the Supreme Court’s West Virginia v. EPA decision last summer that limited the ability of the EPA to cap power plant emissions by regulation due to the EPA’s lack of explicit congressional authority to do so,” said Gee, who also will appear on the Executive War College legal panel next week.

“The West Virginia v. EPA ruling provides support for those in the clinical lab industry who point to the FDA’s lack of clear statutory authority to regulate LDTs and therefore fundamentally disagree with FDA’s longstanding position that LDTs are medical devices subject to FDA’s authority to regulate,” he added.

Actions Clinical Laboratory Managers Can Take

Clinical laboratory managers who want to share their thoughts about the future of LDT regulation may want to take one or both of the following actions:

  • Contact their representatives in Congress.
  • Find out whether any trade associations they belong to have taken a position on the VALID Act.

Clinical laboratory professionals should monitor the VALID Act’s progress while also paying attention to industry groups and manufacturers that support or oppose the bill.

Doing so will provide a clearer indication of who has the most to gain or lose should the legislation be passed. Pathologists and medical laboratory managers should also remain alert for further efforts by the FDA to issue proposed rulemaking to regulate LDTs. 

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

H.R. 2369 Verifying Accurate Leading-edge IVCT Development Act of 2023

2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management

Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988

Congress Holds Off on Enabling FDA Regulation of Clinical Laboratory-Developed Tests

Hillebrenner Says FDA No Longer Waiting on Congress for LDT Regulation

West Virginia v. EPA Decision

Looming Government Shutdown Opens Door for Congress to Possibly Pass Clinical Laboratory Bills

Theranos Whistleblower Tyler Shultz Publicly Denounces LDT ‘Loophole’ that the Disgraced Blood-testing Company Exploited

Does Giving a Patient a $75 Gift Card to Send in a Clinical Laboratory Test Specimen Violate Federal Fraud Laws? A Whistleblower Lawsuit Argues ‘Yes!’

Novel scheme by medical laboratory company to induce patients to collect and return their own specimen for testing is central to a federal whistleblower case alleging violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute

Handing out gift cards only to patients who return a specimen to a clinical laboratory company for colorectal cancer screening is a unique approach that is now at the center of a federal qui tamcase filed by a retired Indiana pathologist.

The defendant in this whistleblower lawsuit is Exact Sciences Laboratories and its parent company Exact Sciences Corporation (NASDAQ:EXAS). Last month, a federal judge ruled the court case will proceed following attempts by the defendant’s attorneys to have the case dismissed.

The plaintiffs (United States of America ex rel. Niles Rosen, MD) allege Exact Sciences Laboratories violated the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and False Claims Act by offering $75 gift cards to induce patients to return self-collected fecal samples for the lab’s Cologuard at-home colon cancer screening kit through its Patient Compliance Program. 

Exact Sciences refuted the allegations and moved to have the case dismissed claiming it “had a good faith belief that its [Patient Compliance Program] complied with the law and thus lacked the requisite intent for a violation of the AKS,” according to court documents. The court denied Exact Sciences’ motion to dismiss.

Brian Boynton, JD

“We are grateful for the hard work and courage of those private citizens who bring evidence of fraud to the Department’s attention, often putting at risk their careers and reputations,” said Brian Boynton, JD (above), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Division in a February 7, 2023, DOJ statement. “Our ability to protect citizens and taxpayer funds continues to benefit greatly from their actions.” Clinical laboratory managers will want to follow this and other qui tam cases claiming violation of anti-kickback laws. (Photo copyright: Department of Justice.)

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Was Exact Sciences’ Patient Compliance Program a Kickback?

Cologuard is a non-invasive testing kit utilized by people to screen for colorectal cancer in the privacy of their own homes. It is intended for those over the age of 45 who are at low or average risk for the disease. Exact Sciences regularly runs television advertisements urging individuals to be screened for colorectal cancer using the Cologuard test.

Following a physician’s order, and after receiving the testing kit in the mail, individuals collect a stool sample using the specimen container in the kit and return the sample to Exact Sciences Laboratories (ESL) for analysis. The test works by looking for certain DNA markers and blood in the stool sample. 

According to Report on Medicare Compliance from the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), in 2017, a gastroenterologist ordered the Cologuard kit for Rosen, the whistleblower, but Rosen chose not to return a stool sample to ESL. A few months later, ESL sent Rosen a letter offering him a $75 Visa gift card if he performed the at-home specimen collection and then returned it to ESL by March 22, 2018. Persuaded by the offer, Rosen collected a sample, returned it to ESL, and received the gift card. 

As part of its Patient Compliance Program, ESL analyzed Rosen’s sample and received $499 from Medicare for performing the test. The complaint filed against Exact Sciences states Medicare paid Exact Sciences more than $160 million for a total of 334,424 Cologuard tests in 2018 while the company offered “unlawful cash equivalent inducements directly to Medicare beneficiaries,” COSMOS reported.

“It was a straight-up kickback,” Rosen’s attorney Marlan Wilbanks, JD, Senior Partner at Atlanta law firm Wilbanks and Gouinlock, told COSMOS. “You can’t offer cash or cash equivalents to anyone to induce them to use a government service.”

DOJ Elects to Not Intervene in Lawsuit

In February 2020, Exact Sciences received a civil investigation demand by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the gift card incentive. The DOJ later filed a notice that it had elected to decline intervention in the lawsuit. This action did not prevent Rosen from continuing with the lawsuit. Accordingly, in April of 2021, he filed an amended complaint against Exact Sciences alleging violations of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and False Claims Act. 

Rosen is seeking a monetary award for himself, and on behalf of the US government, for civil penalties, treble damages, fees, and costs. 

According to Report on Medicare Compliance, Exact Sciences “refuted the allegations and asserted, among other things, that the arrangement qualifies for the preventive care safe harbor to the anti-kickback statute (AKS) and that the complaint fails for many reasons.”

Exact Sciences also noted in its motion to dismiss that “encouraging a patient to have a medical service that was already ordered by a provider isn’t an inducement under the AKS.”  

At this time, the case remains unresolved and continues in federal court.

DOJ Recovers Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from AKS Violations

A qui tam lawsuit or action is a method available for individuals to help the government circumvent fraud and recover money for taxpayers. Types of fraud included in these cases often pertain to Medicare and Medicaid services, defense contractor fraud, and procurement fraud.

According to the DOJ, over $1.9 billion was recovered as a result of qui tam lawsuits pursued by either the government or whistleblowers during fiscal year 2022. The number of these types of lawsuits has increased dramatically over the years with a total of 652 qui tam cases filed in 2022 alone.

Thus, clinical laboratory professionals should be aware that this type of novel scheme to generate more patients could possibly lead to legal issues. Dark Daily would like to credit Laboratory Economics for calling attention to this fascinating case of alleged illegal inducement involving a medical laboratory company. 

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Legal Corner: Niles Rosen v Exact Sciences

FCA Lawsuit Over Patient Gift Cards Survives Motion to Dismiss

United States of America ex rel. Niles Rosen, MD, v. Plaintiff, Exact Sciences Corporation and Exact Sciences Laboratories, LLC [motion to dismiss]

United States of America ex rel. Niles Rosen, MD, v. Plaintiff, Exact Sciences Corporation and Exact Sciences Laboratories, LLC [entry of an order staying discovery]

Report on Medicare Compliance

False Claims Act Settlements and Judgments Exceed $2 Billion in Fiscal Year 2022

IRS Expands Preventive Care Benefits Under High Deductible Health Plans

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

HHS: Fraud and Abuse Laws

Medicare and State Health Care Programs: Fraud and Abuse; Revisions to the Safe Harbors Under the Anti-Kickback Statute and Civil Monetary Penalty Rules Regarding Beneficiary Inducements

What It Means to Be a Clinical Laboratory Whistleblower Outlined in Newly Released ‘Tell-All’ Book by Lab Executive Chris Riedel

Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services Leaders Sentenced to Prison in $100-Million Lab Test Kickback Scheme That Also Led to Convictions of 38 Physicians

Congress Holds Off on Enabling FDA Regulation of Clinical Laboratory-Developed Tests

Supporters of the VALID Act say lobbying blitz by academic medical centers prevented its passage

In 2022, a bill before Congress titled the Verifying Accurate Leading-Edge IVCT Development Act (VALID Act) sought to change the current regulatory scheme for clinical laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) and in vitro clinical tests (IVCTs).

But even though the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and nine other organizations signed a December 12 stakeholder letter to leaders of key House and Senate committees urging passage of legislation that would enable some regulation of LDTs, the VALID Act was ultimately omitted from the year-end omnibus spending bill (H.R. 2617).

That may be due to pressure from organizations representing clinical laboratories and pathologists which lobbied hard against the bill.

The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP), Association for Pathology Informatics, and Association of Pathology Chairs were among many signatories on a May 22 letter to leaders of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that described the bill as “very flawed, problematic legislation.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also signed the letter, as did numerous medical laboratories and health systems, as well as the American Society of Hematology and the Clinical Immunology Society.

Emily Volk, MD

Responding to criticism of its stance on FDA oversight of LDTs, in a May 2022 open letter posted on the organization’s website, anatomic pathologist and CAP president Emily Volk, MD, said “we at the CAP have an honest difference of opinion with some other respected laboratory organizations. … We believe the VALID Act is the only viable piece of legislation addressing the LDT issue. … the VALID Act contains many provisions that are similar to policy the CAP has advocated for regarding the regulation of laboratory tests since 2009. Importantly, the current version includes explicit protections for pathologists and our ability to practice medicine without infringement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” (Photo copyright: College of American Pathologists.)

Organizations on Both Sides Brought Pressure to Bear on Legislators

“University laboratories and their representatives in Washington put on a full-court press against this,” Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD, (R-Indiana) told ProPublica. Bucshon, who is also a cardiothoracic surgeon, co-sponsored the VALID Act along with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado).

The AAMC and AMP were especially influential, Bucshon told ProPublica. In addition to spending hefty sums on lobbying, AMP urged its members to contact legislators directly and provided talking points, ProPublica reported.

“The academic medical centers and big medical centers are in every state,” Bucshon said. As major employers in many locales, they have “a pretty big voice,” he added.

CAP, on the other hand, was joined in its efforts by AdvaMed, a trade association for medical technology companies, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Association for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Association of Black Cardiologists, Friends of Cancer Research, Heart Valve Voice US, LUNGevity Foundation, and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Discussing CAP’s reasoning behind its support of the VALID Act in a May 26 open letter and podcast, CAP president Emily Volk, MD, said the Valid Act “creates a risk-based system of oversight utilizing three tiers—low, moderate and high risk—in order to target the attention of the FDA oversight.”

While acknowledging that it had room for improvement, she lauded the bill’s three-tier risk-based system, in which tests deemed to have the greatest risks would receive the highest level of scrutiny.

She also noted that the bill exempts existing LDTs from an FDA premarket review “unless there is a safety concern for patients.” It would also exempt “low-volume tests, modified tests, manual interpretation tests, and humanitarian tests,” she wrote.

In addition, the bill would “direct the FDA not to create regulations that are duplicative of regulation under CLIA,” she noted, and “would require the FDA to conduct public hearings on LDT oversight.”

Pros and Cons of the VALID Act

One concern raised by opponents relates to how the VALID Act addressed user fees paid by clinical laboratories to fund FDA compliance activities. But Volk wrote that any specific fees “would need to be approved by Congress in a future FDA user fee authorization bill after years of public input.”

During the May 2022 podcast, Volk also cast CAP’s support as a matter of recognizing political realities.

“We understand that support for FDA oversight of laboratory-developed tests or IVCTs is present on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress,” she said. “In fact, it enjoys wide support among very influential patient advocacy groups.” These groups “are very sophisticated in their understanding of the issues with laboratory-developed tests, and they do have the ear of Congress. There are many in the laboratory community that believe the VALID Act goes too far, but I can tell you that many of these patient groups don’t believe it goes far enough and are actively pushing for even more restrictive paradigms.”

Also urging passage of the bill were former FDA commissioners Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD. In a Dec. 5 opinion piece for STAT, they noted that “diagnostic technologies have undergone considerable advances in recent decades, owing to innovation in fields like genomics, proteomics, and data science.” However, they wrote, laws governing FDA oversight “have not kept pace,” placing the agency in a position of regulating tests based on where they are made—in a medical laboratory or by a manufacturer—instead of their “distinctive complexity or potential risks.”

In their May 22 letter, opponents of the legislation outlined broad areas of concern. They contended that it would create “an onerous and complex system that would radically alter the way that laboratory testing is regulated to the detriment of patient care.” And even though existing tests would be largely exempted from oversight, “the utility of these tests would diminish over time as the VALID Act puts overly restrictive constraints on how they can be modified.”

CLIA Regulation of LDTs also Under Scrutiny

The provision to avoid duplication with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) program—which currently has some regulatory oversight of LDTs and IVCTs—is “insufficient,” opponents added, “especially when other aspects of the legislation call for requirements and activities that lead to duplicative and unnecessary regulatory burden.”

Opponents to the VALID Act also argued that the definitions of high-, medium-, and low-risk test categories lacked clarity, stating that “the newly created definition of moderate risk appears to overlap with the definition of high risk.”

The opponents also took issue with the degree of discretion that the bill grants to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. This will create “an unpredictable regulatory process and ambiguities in the significance of the policy,” they wrote, while urging the Senate committee to “narrow the discretion so that stakeholders may better evaluate and understand the implications of this legislation.”

Decades ago, clinical laboratory researchers were allowed to develop assays in tandem with clinicians that were intended to provide accurate diagnoses, earlier detection of disease, and help guide selection of therapies. Since the 1990s, however, an industry of investor-funded laboratory companies have brought proprietary LDTs to the national market. Many recognize that this falls outside the government’s original intent for encouragement of laboratory-developed tests to begin with.

—Stephen Beale

Related Information:

The Tests Are Vital. But Congress Decided That Regulation Is Not.

Message from the CAP President on the VALID Act

Better Lab Test Standards Can Ensure Precision Medicine Is Truly Precise

Healthcare Groups Urge Congress to Pass Diagnostic Testing Reform Before Year’s End

Califf: FDA May Use Rulemaking for Diagnostics Reform If VALID Isn’t Passed

Is FDA LDT Surveillance Set to Improve as VALID Act Heads to Resolution?

Congress Needs to Update FDA’s Ability to Regulate Diagnostic Tests, Cosmetics

FDA User Fee Reauthorization: Contextualizing the VALID Act

They Trusted Their Prenatal Test. They Didn’t Know the Industry Is an Unregulated “Wild West.”

InsideHealthPolicy: Pew, AdvaMed, Others Push for VALID as Clock Ticks on Government Funding

AdvaMed Leads Letter Urging Lawmakers to Support Bipartisan Diagnostics Reform

Federal EKRA Law Continues to Cause Uncertainty in Clinical Laboratory Sales Compliance

Healthcare attorneys advise medical laboratory leaders to ensure staff understand difference between EKRA and other federal fraud laws, such as the Anti-kickback Statute

More than four years have passed since Congress passed the law and yet the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA) continues to cause anxiety and confusion. In particular are the differences in the safe harbors between the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Stark Law versus EKRA. This creates uncertainty among clinical laboratory leaders as they try to understand how these disparate federal laws affect business referrals for medical testing.

According to a news alert from Tampa Bay, Florida-based law firm, Holland and Knight, “EKRA was enacted as part of comprehensive legislation designed to address the opioid crisis and fraudulent practices occurring in the sober home industry.” However, “In the four years since EKRA’s enactment, US Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement actions have broadened EKRA’s scope beyond reducing fraud in the addiction treatment industry to include all clinical laboratory activities, including COVID-19 testing.”

It is important that medical laboratory leaders understand this law. New cases are showing up and it would be wise for clinical laboratory managers to review their EKRA/AKS/Stark Law compliance with their legal counsels.

David Gee

“Keeping in mind that [EKRA is] a criminal statute, clinical laboratories need to take steps to demonstrate that they’re not intending to break the law,” said attorney David Gee, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, in an exclusive interview with The Dark Report. “[Lab leaders should] think about what they can do to make their sales compensation program avoid the things the government has had such a problem with, even if they’re not sure exactly how to compensate under the language of EKRA or how they’re supposed to develop a useful incentive compensation plan when they can’t pay commissions.” David Gee will be speaking about laboratory regulations and compliance at the upcoming Executive War College in New Orleans on April 25-26, 2023. (Photo copyright: Davis Wright Tremaine.)

How Does EKRA Affect Clinical Laboratories?

The federal EKRA statute—originally enacted to address healthcare fraud in addiction treatment facilities—was “expansively drafted to also apply to clinical laboratories,” according to New York-based law firm, Epstein Becker and Green. As such, EKRA “applies to improper referrals for any ‘service,’ regardless of the payor. … public as well as private insurance plans, and even self-pay patients, fall within the reach of the statute.”

In “Revised Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute Rules Are Good News for Labs,” Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report noted that EKRA creates criminal penalties for any individual who solicits or receives any remuneration for referring a patient to a recovery home, clinical treatment facility, or clinical laboratory, or who pays or offers any remuneration to induce a referral.

According to Epstein Becker and Green, EKRA:

  • Applies to clinical laboratories, not just toxicology labs.
  • Has relevance to all payers: Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance plans, and self-pay.
  • Is a criminal statute with “extreme penalties” such as 10 years in prison and $200,000 fine per occurrence.
  • Exceptions are not concurrent with AKS.
  • Areas being scrutinized include COVID-19 testing, toxicology, allergy, cardiac, and genetic tests.

“For many clinical laboratories, a single enforcement action could have a disastrous effect on their business. And unlike other healthcare fraud and abuse statutes, such as the AKA, exceptions are very limited,” Epstein Becker and Green legal experts noted.

“Therefore, a lab could potentially find itself protected under an AKS safe harbor and still potentially be in violation of EKRA,” they continued. “The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the DOJ have not provided any clarity regarding this statute (EKRA). Without this much needed guidance clinical laboratories have been left wondering what they need to do to avoid liability.”

EKRA versus AKS and Stark Law

HHS compared AKS and the Stark Law (but not EKRA) by noting on its website prohibition, penalties, exceptions, and applicable federal healthcare programs for each federal law: 

  • AKS has criminal fines of up to $25,000 per violation and up to a five-year prison term, as well as civil penalties.
  • The Stark Law has civil penalties only.
  • AKS prohibits anyone from “offering, paying, soliciting, or receiving anything of value to induce or reward referrals or generate federal healthcare program business.”
  • The Stark Law addresses referrals from physicians and prohibits the doctors “from referring Medicare patients for designated health services to an entity with which the physician has a financial relationship.”

EKRA is more restrictive than AKS, as it prohibits some compensation that AKS allows, healthcare attorney Emily Johnson of McDonald Hopkins in Chicago told The Dark Report.

“Specifically, AKS includes a safe harbor for bona fide employees that gives an employer wide discretion in how employees are paid, including permitting percentage-based compensation,” Johnson wrote in a Dark Daily Coding, Billing, and Collections Special Report, titled, “Getting Paid for COVID-19 Test Claims: What Every Clinical Lab Needs to Know to Maximize Collected Dollars.”  

EKRA Cases May Inform Clinical Laboratory Leaders

Recent enforcement actions may help lab leaders better understand EKRA’s reach. According to Holland and Knight:

  • Malena Lepetich of Belle Isle, Louisiana, owner and CEO of MedLogic LLC in Baton Rouge, was indicted in a $15 million healthcare fraud scheme for “allegedly offering to pay kickbacks for COVID-19 specimens and respiratory pathogen testing.”
  • In S-G Labs Hawaii, LLC v. Graves, a federal court concluded the laboratory recruiter’s contract “did not violate EKRA because the recruiter was not referring individual patients but rather marketing to doctors. According to the court, EKRA only prohibits percentage-based compensation to marketers based on direct patient referrals.”
  • In another federal case, United States v. Mark Schena, the court’s rule on prohibition of direct and indirect referrals of patients to clinical labs sent a strong signal “that EKRA most likely prohibits clinical laboratories from paying their marketers percentage-based compensation, regardless of whether the marketer targets doctors or prospective patients.”

What can medical laboratory leaders do to ensure compliance with the EKRA law?

In EKRA Compliance, Law and Regulations for 2023, Dallas law firm Oberheiden P.C., advised clinical laboratories (as well as recovery homes and clinical treatment facilities) to have EKRA policies and procedure in place, and to reach out to staff (employed and contracted) to build awareness of statute prohibitions and risks of non-compliance.

One other useful resource for clinical laboratory executives and pathologists with management oversight of their labs’ marketing and sales programs is the upcoming Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management. The conference takes place on April 25-26, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. A panel of attorneys with deep experience in lab law and compliance will discuss issues associated with EKRA, the Anti-Kickback Statutes, and the Stark self-referral law. 

Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

The State of EKRA

Four Years After EKRA: Reminders for Clinical Laboratories

Revised Stark Law and AKS Rules Are Good News for Labs

Comparison of the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law

Getting Paid for COVID-19 Test Claims: What Every Clinical Lab Needs to Know to Maximize Collected Dollars

EKRA Compliance, Law and Regulations for 2023

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