News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
Sign In

Have Low-cost Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Changed Census Results in America?

Citizens claiming racial diversity increased by 276% in the 2020 census, leading experts to wonder if racial diversity is increasing or if people are simply electing to identify as such and how this trend will affect healthcare

Once again, we see another unexpected consequence to expanded DNA testing done by consumers for their own interests and needs. As NPR recently reported in “The Census Has Revealed a More Multiracial US. One Reason? Cheaper DNA Tests,” the growing trend of ordering low-cost direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing to identify cultural heritage (where a family came from) and genealogy (to connect with extant family members) has educated healthcare consumers more about their cultural roots.

Such knowledge, NPR speculates, is allowing people to complete their census survey with more accurate “heritage” classifications.

How does this affect clinical laboratories? As Dark Daily covered in “Popularity of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Still Growing, Regardless of Concerns from Provider and Privacy Organizations,” popularity of at-home testing—including DNA testing—coupled with demand for increasingly personalized medicine (PM) in healthcare, will likely change the types of test orders medical laboratories receive from physicians.

What Did the 2020 Census Show?

The last US census showed an interesting change compared to previous census surveys. More Americans identified themselves as racially diverse than in previous censuses. Scientists in multiple specialty areas—including demographics, sociology, genetics, and more—are asking why.

According to federal Census Bureau data, in the most recent census, people who identify as more than one race rose by 276%! Scientists are only just beginning to hypothesize the reasons for this increase, but three potential factors, NPR reported, have emerged:

  • More children are being born to parents who identify with racial groups that are different from one another.
  • In 2017, the federal government made minor changes to how the census asked questions about race and in how those answers were categorized.
  • People are reconsidering what they want the government to know about their identities, according to Duke University Press.

The increased incidence of DNA testing for cultural heritage may be an additional factor in the different ways people identified themselves during the census, driving its popularity, NPR noted. More people are purchasing at-home DNA tests to learn where their ancestors lived and came from, and their family’s genealogy.

“Exactly how big of an effect these tests had on census results is difficult to pin down,” NPR reported. “But many researchers agree that as the cost of at-home kits fell in recent years, they have helped shape an increasing share of the country’s ever-changing ideas about the social construct that is race.”

How the Census Alters Government Policy

Pew Research noted that, although only about 16% of Americans have taken an ancestry DNA test, the marketing efforts of “companies such as 23andMe and, which operates the AncestryDNA service, should not be underestimated,” NPR reported.  They have a wide reach, and those efforts could be impacting how people think about race and ethnic identity.

For most of human history, social experience and contemporary family history have been the drivers of how people identified themselves. However, low-cost DTC genetic testing may be changing that.

Jenifer Bratter, PhD

“The public has kind of taken in the notion that you can find out ‘who you are’ with a test that’s supposed to analyze your genes,” Jenifer Bratter, PhD (above), a Professor of Sociology at Rice University who studies multiracial identity, told NPR. “What that does for anyone who does work in racial identity and racial demography is cause us to think through how genetic ideas of race are in public circulation.” Desire by healthcare consumers to know their risk for chronic disease has already driven a marked increase in demand for low-cost DNA testing, which has also affected the types of test orders clinical laboratory are receiving from doctors. (Photo copyright: Rice University.)

One concern that sociologists and demographers have about this trend is that the US census is an important tool in policy, civil rights protections, and even how researchers measure things like healthcare access disparities.

“You’re going to have a lot more people who are not part of marginalized groups in terms of their social experiences claiming to be part of marginalized groups. When it comes to understanding discrimination or inequality, we’re going have very inaccurate estimates,” says Wendy Roth, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, told NPR.

Cherry-picking One’s Racial Identity

In “Genetic Options: The Impact of Genetic Ancestry Testing on Consumers’ Racial and Ethnic Identities,” published in the American Journal of Sociology, Roth and her fellow researchers theorized that DTC at-home DNA test-takers do not accept the results fully, but rather choose based on their identity aspirations and social appraisals.

They developed the “genetic options” theory, “to account for how genetic ancestry tests influence consumers’ ethnic and racial identities.” They wrote, “The rapid growth of genetic ancestry testing has brought concerns that these tests will transform consumers’ racial and ethnic identities, producing “geneticized” identities determined by genetic knowledge.”

However, a more healthcare-related motivation for taking a DTC DNA test is to learn about one’s potential risks for familial chronic health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, etc.

In “With Consumer Demand for Ancestry and Genealogy Genetic Tests Waning, Leading Genomics Companies are Investigating Ways to Commercialize the Aggregated Genetics Data They Have Collected,” Dark Daily noted that, faced with lagging sales and employee layoffs, genomics companies in the genealogy DNA testing market are shifting their focus to the healthcare aspects of the consumer genomics data they have already compiled and aggregated.

According to Joe Grzymski, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at Renown Health and Associate Research Professor of Computational Biology at Desert Research Institute, a research campus of the University of Nevada Reno, the consumer market is going to become more integrated into the healthcare experience.

“Whether that occurs through your primary care doctor, your large integrated health network, or your payor, I think there will be profound changes in society’s tolerance for using genetics for prevention,” he told GenomeWeb.

Regardless, as Dark Daily reported in 2020, sales of genetic tests from Ancestry and 23andMe show the market is cooling. Thus, with less than 20% of the population having taken DNA tests, and with sales slowing, genetics testing may not affect responses on the next US census, which is scheduled for April 1, 2030.

In the meantime, clinical laboratory managers should recognize how and why more consumers are interested in ordering their own medical laboratory tests and incorporate this trend into their lab’s strategic planning.

—Dava Stewart

Related Information:

The Census Has Revealed a More Multiracial US. One Reason? Cheaper DNA Tests

Percentage of Population and Percent Change by Race: 2010 and 2020

Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity

America’s Churning Races: Race and Ethnicity Response Changes Between Census 2000 and the 2010 Census

About Half of Americans Are OK with DNA Testing Companies Sharing User Data with Law Enforcement

Genetic Options: The Impact of Genetic Ancestry Testing on Consumers’ Racial and Ethnic Identities

With Consumer Demand for Ancestry and Genealogy Genetic Tests Waning, Leading Genomics Companies Are Investigating Ways to Commercialize the Aggregated Genetics Data They Have Collected

Consumer Reports Identifies ‘Potential Pitfalls’ of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests

Popularity of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Still Growing, Regardless of Concerns from Provider and Privacy Organizations

Shrinking Reimbursements and Increasingly Complex Regulations Will Squeeze Profits and Harm Valuations of Clinical Laboratories That Fail to Strengthen Their Strategic Positions

Operational efficiencies, strong management teams, and successful outreach business are key clinical laboratory success in today’s era of mergers and acquisitions

Fierce economic headwinds are taking aim at the entire pathology industry, as shrinking Medicare reimbursement rates, shifting federal regulations and compliance requirements, and changing care models squeeze profit margins and threaten valuations of most clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.

The reimbursement rate changes mandated by the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA), which took place January 1, 2018, loom as the most immediate danger to the long-term financial health and viability of medical diagnostic laboratories.

“Medicare reimbursement rates to labs providing essential testing services are estimated to drop by $670 million this year, and additional reductions scheduled for 2019 and 2020 will cut payments by nearly 30% for many tests critical to caring for Medicare beneficiaries,” noted Julie Khani, President of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), in “Patient Care Is Put to the Test as Clinical Laboratory Services Are Hit With a One-Two Punch in Rate Cuts,” an article she penned for the ACLA website.

“For some labs, such as rural hospitals and labs serving patients in skilled nursing facilities—which already have significantly higher operating costs—this could be a death knell that would precede a devastating loss of patient access to necessary testing services,” she concluded.

Assessing Financial Solvency to Survive Impending Mergers and Acquisitions

The ACLA has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for what it called a “flawed and misguided” implementation of the law. For now, however, the roll out of reimbursement rates cuts will continue, an ACLA blog post reports.

As a result, post-PAMA pressures combined with other factors are forcing clinical laboratory leaders to consider their strategic options, including:

  • Reorganizing;
  • Restructuring;
  • Merging/consolidating with another laboratory; and,
  • Selling.

As GenomeWeb pointed out prior to PAMA’s implementation, “All clinical labs in the U.S.—from the largest reference labs to in-hospital labs to physician-practice labs—will be touched by the changes to varying degrees.”  The future, GenomeWeb predicts, “may be a market with fewer independently operated small and regional labs, as well as fewer outreach labs owned by hospitals. Instead, such operations could become part of [Quest Diagnostics’] and LabCorp’s networks.”

This changing landscape means laboratories need to be assessing their financial solvency and maximizing their valuation even if they are not currently candidates for either side of the merger and acquisition equation. Failing to anticipate and respond to unfolding changes could leave laboratory executives courting a financial reckoning.

Pathway to Driving Valuation for Your Laboratory

To help clinical laboratory owners, CEOs, administrators, and pathologists understand the forces driving today’s mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures—and to guide their future decision-making—Dark Daily is presenting a new webinar at 1:30 p.m. EASTERN on Thursday, June 28, 2018, titled, “The Pathway to Driving Valuation for Your Laboratory: Your Roadmap to Achieving Success, and How to Sustain Growth Despite a Changing Lab Environment.”

One speaker is Vicki DiFrancesco, Chief Strategy Officer, XIFIN, San Diego. DiFrancesco has an insider’s understanding of mergers and acquisitions and 25 years of executive leadership experience. Prior to joining XIFIN, DiFrancesco served as President and CEO of Pathology Inc., the West Coast’s premier women’s health laboratory, which was acquired by LabCorp in March 2016.

The other speaker is David Nichols, Founder and President at Nichols Management Group (NMG) in York Harbor, Maine. NMG provides laboratory consulting services for healthcare organizations. Since its founding in 1988, NMG has provided expertise in improving overall effectiveness and in implementing such strategies as sales force development, market planning, compliance/financial auditing, and in selected cases, hands-on management responsibilities by working onsite with senior personnel in each area of need.

During their 90-minute presentation, you will learn:

  • Market factors creating financial challenges for your laboratory;
  • How revenue compression and compliance issues are driving merger and acquisition activity;
  • Steps to optimizing your lab’s reimbursements, a key to improving financial performance;
  • Revenue cycle management’s importance as a valuation driver;
  • Strategies to significantly improve your market position;
  • Components of an effective compliance program and why compliance is so important to laboratory valuation;
  • Value drivers that attract buyers, such as profitable growth, a strong compliance program, competent management teams, EBITDA, cash flow and gross margins; and,
  • Specific challenges that should be addressed in any merger or consolidation plan.

David Nichols (left), Founder and President at Nichols Management Group (NMG); and Vicki DiFrancesco, Chief Strategy Officer, XIFIN, will share vital insights and share critical strategies that clinical laboratories can immediately use to drive valuations and prepare for current and future financial challenges. (Photo copyright: Dark Daily.)

To register for this critical webinar, use this link  (or copy and paste this URL into your browser:

Despite the financial pressure on many existing laboratories, the medical laboratory industry continues to play a vital role in the healthcare system, with clinical laboratory tests guiding more than 70% of all medical decisions made by healthcare providers, according an ACLA fact sheet.

The industry also contributes more than $100 billion in annual economic impact and produces more than 622,400 jobs. While the role of diagnostic laboratories will continue to grow in an era of personalized medicine, only laboratories that optimize their strategic position in response to the changes taking place may be left standing when the predicted industry consolidation is complete.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

The Pathway to Driving Valuation for Your Laboratory: Your Roadmap to Achieving Success, and How to Sustain Growth Despite a Changing Lab Environment

Patient Care Is Put to the Test as Clinical Laboratory Services Are Hit with a One-Two Punch in Rate Cuts

ACLA PAMA Lawsuit Complaint Against CMS

Recent NILA Report Highlights Harmful Impacts of Misguided PAMA Implementation on Labs and Seniors

The PAMA Effect: Consolidation of Clinical Labs Expected as Legislation Set to Take Effect

Conference Ends with Optimistic Outlook for Laboratories

Clinical Laboratory Testing: Life Saving Medicine Starts Here

Sudden Shutdown of Claritas Genomics After Five Years as A Leading Source of Pediatric Genetic Testing Surprises Clinical Laboratory Industry

Operations ended last week after reports suggested the end came as a result of misalignment of goals among investors in a lab company many considered to be successful

One contributing factor the surprise announcement that the owners of Claritas Genomics were closing the clinical laboratory company may have been the struggle to get payers to reimburse its genetics test claims. If true, it is the latest market sign of how health insurers are making it difficult for labs to get paid for proprietary molecular diagnostic assays and genetic tests.

With no official announcement, Claritas Genomics quietly ended operations effective on Friday, Jan. 19. That evening, a spokeswoman for Claritas Genomics’ majority owner, Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), confirmed for Dark Daily that the lab was closed and said no reason was given for the closing. More details may be forthcoming this week, she added.

As of the close of business on Tuesday, there was still no word from the genetics testing company founded in 2013. GenomeWeb was the first to report that Claritas Genomic’s diagnostic laboratories no longer do any testing. According to GenomeWeb, Brian Quirbach, former Clinical Testing Coordinator at Claritas Genomics, and part of the lab’s client services team, confirmed that the last day of business was Friday, Jan. 19. The BCH spokeswoman said the GenomeWeb article was accurate.

Asked if there had been a precipitating event at Claritas, if the company had experienced any serious business trouble, if it had struggled to get paid, or if payers were slow in paying, the spokeswoman declined to comment. Instead, she referred to the GenomeWeb article, saying it was mostly accurate.

Claritas Genomics a Casualty of Clinical Laboratory Price Wars

According GenomeWeb, Claritas was like other genetic testing laboratories that have long struggled to get health insurers to pay for rare disease tests. Also, Claritas and other genetic and molecular testing labs suffer financially as a direct result of the ongoing price wars among competing genetic testing lab companies.

“As a small company, it also wasn’t able to offer testing that did not come with potential patient payment obligations, which larger laboratories with better resources or payer contracts can do,” the GenomeWeb article noted.

According to GenomeWeb’s sources, Claritas had a reputation for delivering highly-accurate test results. The reason for this level of performance, the article noted, was Claritas’ use of two sequencing platforms, which lowered false-positive rates. The testing lab combined low false-positive rates with interpretations from WuXi NextCode. The clinical expertise available at BCH gave Claritas the best diagnostic exome in the industry in terms of technical quality and diagnostic power, one source told GenomeWeb.

The decision to close the company, the source noted, was a result of misalignment between investors at WuXi NextCode and BCH. Other sources speculated that Claritas and WuXi NextCode were considering a merger, which did not happen, GenomeWeb reported.

Ultimately, the source stated, BCH held the controlling interest and made the business decision to close the clinical laboratory company. And that the decision was unrelated to the lab’s quality.

Claritas’ clients were told, according to GenomeWeb, to download all test results and data by Thursday, Jan. 18, and that the lab’s operations manager would be available for a few weeks to answer customers’ questions.

Genetic Tests Developer for Pediatrics and Hereditary Disorders

Claritas, which was headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., had about 30 employees. When it was founded as a partnership between BCH and Life Technologies, its goal was to develop genetic and genomics-based diagnostic tests, primarily for pediatric patients with hereditary disorders.

By the middle of 2014, the company had grown to about 60 employees, moved into a new building with a CLIA-certified laboratory in Cambridge, Mass., and launched the ClariView Exome for Pediatric Neurology, GenomeWeb reported. Four months later, Thermo Fisher Scientific acquired Life Technologies.

In 2014, Dark Daily’s sister print publication The Dark Report (TDR) reported on the development of Claritas Genomics as an in-hospital lab that became independent. For 15 years, the lab operated as the genetic diagnostic laboratory at 396-bed BCH, we reported. (See The Dark Report, “Claritas Is Example of New Lab Business Model,” June 13, 2014.)

“As one of the hospital’s CLIA-certified laboratories, it provided the advanced molecular diagnostic testing services used by the hospital,” said Patrice M. Milos, PhD, who was Claritas Genomic’s CEO at the time.

At the 2014 Executive War College in New Orleans, Patrice Milos, PhD, then President and CEO, Claritas Genomics, spoke with Adam Slone, CEO, Slone Partners, about her path to becoming CEO of Claritas Genomics, how to foster a strong company culture, and what traits she looks for in a leadership team. Click on the photo above to watch the video interview. (Video copyright: Sloan Partners.)

In the early days of Claritas Genomics, BCH was challenged to provide the capital and resources needed for the molecular lab to grow, Milos said. “This was due to the rapid pace of genetic discovery, ongoing advances in gene sequencing technologies, and the difficult financial environment in healthcare,” she recalled. “Thus, to make it easier for the lab to grow, the hospital spun out the lab and created Claritas Genomics in February 2013.”

Informatics Tools to Support Clinical Use of Genetic Data

As an independent lab, Claritas had early success winning a role to do testing for the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a $9-million project of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. In October 2013, the lab company reported that it would do exome sequencing of samples from veterans. At the time, it was one of the largest sequencing initiatives in the nation. (The VA has since reported in 2016 that the program was the largest genomic database in the world.)

Further, this MVP was significant because Claritas benefited by generating cash flow, which it could use to acquire the gene sequencing system and staff expertise in next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies. And, it developed the informatics infrastructure needed to collect, store, and analyze large volumes of genetic data, TDR reported.

Two months later, in December 2013, Claritas entered into a partnership with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., to build the tools and connectivity systems needed to integrate NGS-based diagnostic testing into healthcare data systems. Specifically, the companies said they would develop a system “for molecular diagnostics that is tailored to NGS workflows, which are more complex and generate much more data than traditional molecular diagnostic tests.”

At the time, Milos explained the role that Claritas would play in this partnership. “In terms of this collaboration, one barrier to the use of genomics in medicine is the challenge of integrating the complex information derived from large-scale genomic measurements into a patient’s medical record and clinical practice,” he said. “Our mutual goal is to develop the informatics tools that support clinical use of genetic data.”

Claritas also was working with other pediatric institutions, such as Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, to advance clinical knowledge in a number of ways. “For example, we are facilitating a research network by connecting patients with experts who can provide care and by licensing assays from the hospitals where the discoveries that lead to diagnostic tests are made,” Milos said. “Also, in this business model, we can receive investment from outside sources, such as we have from two of our Series A investors, Life Technologies and Cerner.”

The abrupt closure of Claritas Genomics makes this clinical laboratory company the latest to disappear from the marketplace. The mystery factor in this case is why a company viewed by many as establishing a credible reputation for itself came to such a sudden end.

Joseph Burns

Related Information:

Claritas Genomics Shuts Down Operations

Boston Childrens Hospital and Life Technologies Launch Claritas Genomics

Million Veteran Program is Now Largest Genomic Database in the World

Cerner, Claritas Join Forces to Build Gene-Based Diagnostic Testing Tools

Claritas Is Example of New Lab Business Model

2018 Executive War College for senior lab execs, administrators, and pathologists

More Insurers Willing to Cover Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) in a Trend That Creates New Opportunities for Clinical Pathology Laboratories to Add Value

Most insurers still determine coverage on a case-by-case basis, but two major payers now have coverage policies that are helpful to clinical labs that perform WES

Whole exome sequencing (WES) is not new for clinical pathologists, but it is becoming more common in a clinical setting as more physicians learn about its uses.

This is due to two reasons. First, researchers are identifying new ways to use whole exome sequencing to improve patient care. Second, the cost of whole genome sequencing continues to fall at a steady rate, making it ever more affordable to use in clinical settings.

As recently as 2009, WES was prohibitively expensive and there was little possibility that insurers would cover the cost of the test, as it was considered experimental. Now, however, evidence is mounting that it is an effective diagnostic tool. Therefore, more payers are announcing coverage for WES for an expanding number of diagnostic purposes. (more…)

Canadian Province’s Plan to Begin Next-Generation Gene Sequencing of Newborns Shows Growing Role in Clinical Care for Genome-Guided Medicine

Utah-based Tute Genomics and UNIConnect will partner with Newborn Screening Ontario to uncover rare but treatable diseases in newborns

In the Canadian province of Ontario, next-generation gene sequencing will soon be part of newborn screening. This development is another confirmation for clinical laboratory managers and pathologists that genetic information from such diagnostic testing is contributing to improvements in clinical care.

Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO) is teaming up with Tute Genomics of Provo, Utah, and UNIConnect of Sandy, Utah, to enhance the province’s testing program for rare but treatable diseases in newborns.

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is contracting with NSO to offer a next-generation sequencing testing panel and a multiple ligation-dependent probe amplification assay for the diagnostic confirmation of a variety of disorders. (more…)