Los Angeles Reaches $26 Million Settlement with Sameday Health and its Contract Doctor Over Alleged Phony COVID-19 Lab Test Results That Put Patients at Risk and Cost Insurers Millions
Company was accused of manipulating clinical laboratory reports from previous COVID-19 tests to forge new results, and sending “negative” test results to patients even though their tests had never been completed
National COVID-19 testing chain Sameday Health (a.k.a., Sameday Technologies) will pay $22.5 million—and its contracted doctor an additional $3.9 million—to settle a case with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Attorney’s Office over alleged falsifying, faking, and failing to deliver more than 500 COVID-19 test results to consumers.
According to an announcement from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the settlements require Sameday Health and physician Jeffrey Toll, MD, to pay restitution and civil penalties, and to comply with permanent injunctions prohibiting them from participating in the alleged activities that led to the City Attorney’s investigation.
“If you get a negative test, you assume it’s safe to go to work, visit family and friends, or take a vacation. But the victims of this alleged scheme might unknowingly have spread COVID to others or failed to receive timely and appropriate care themselves,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, JD, said in the announcement.
“We’ve intervened to protect consumers in numerous major COVID-related matters, but this may be the most significant consumer protection case to emerge from the pandemic,” he added.
The LA City Attorney’s Complaint Against Sameday Technologies
Sameday Technologies, which operates under the name Sameday Health, has 55 COVID-19 testing sites throughout the country, with 16 locations in Los Angeles County, including five in the city.
The complaint released by the LA City Attorney’s Office states that consumers “paid a premium to get a rapid COVID-19 PCR test from Sameday Technologies, Inc. (Sameday), a Venice, Calif.-based start-up turned national chain that promised reliable COVID-19 test results in 24- hours or less.”
Sameday did not own its own clinical laboratory and its primary third-party vendor labs “were only required to aim to deliver results to Sameday’s consumers within 24-hours or 48-hours of the laboratory receiving the consumers’ testing samples from Sameday, along with all of the paperwork and information necessary to track, process, and report the result.
“But Sameday, unable to meet its 24-hour guarantee, sent hundreds of customers fake test results and laboratory reports stating that they had tested negative for COVID-19, when in reality Sameday’s laboratories had not run (and in many cases had not even received) the consumers’ tests,” the attorneys’ complaint states.
In addition to forging and falsifying hundreds of test results, the LA City Attorney’s Office alleges Sameday committed insurance fraud by partnering with a doctor to steer insured customers into three-minute-long medically unnecessary consultations. Using a virtual call center of physicians, the attorney’s office states, Sameday “submitted claims to insurance companies with codes that falsely represented the length of the consultations, misrepresented the purpose of the tests and consults, and sometimes sought reimbursement for calls that never even happened.” The state maintains Sameday in one year made “millions of dollars” from California-based insurance claims alone.
Additional Settlement with LA-based Medical Internist
In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times, Sameday Health stated it was founded in September 2020 “to make fast, reliable, COVID testing available to everyone.
“In the early days, amidst the chaos of massive surges in demand for services, and shortages in supplies, we failed to meet the standards for excellence our customers deserve,” the company said. “We have corrected the problems that arose back in 2020 and have made significant investments in compliance and systems to ensure that we meet our customers’ expectations. We agreed to settle with the City Attorney and the LA District Attorney in order to move forward and to allow the 1,200 men and women of Sameday to place their focus on providing top-level service to the communities we serve.”
Sameday’s founder and CEO Felix Huettenbach also is named in the settlement, having agreed to join with Sameday in paying $9.5 million in restitution and $13 million in penalties and to no longer access any test result or medical records belonging to any Sameday Health customers.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a separate $3.9 million settlement was reached with Jeffrey Toll, MD, a Los Angeles-based internist who serves as Medical Director for concierge medical practice Good Life Medical Services.
Feuer and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón maintain Toll was a partner in Sameday Health’s alleged insurance fraud. In their complaint, they state patient phone calls would last two to three minutes and cost insurers about $450. In exchange, Toll allegedly gave Sameday Health a large portion of the profits, the complaint alleges.
Toll’s attorney D. Shawn Burkley, JD, of Werksman Jackson and Quinn LLP denied any wrongdoing, telling the Los Angeles Times, “We settled the matter, but we do not believe that Dr. Toll did anything that was unethical.”
Settlements with Toll and Sameday Health must still be approved by a judge.
Patients to Receive Refunds for PCR Clinical Laboratory Tests
In late April, Feuer announced that Californians who paid out of pocket for PCR tests from Sameday Health between October 1 and December 31, 2020, are expected to be issued refunds from the company as part of the settlement, Patch reported.
More than 800 million COVID-19 tests have been performed in the United States since the pandemic began in 2020, according to Our World in Data statistics. Though incidents of fraud have been rare, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists who read Dark Daily will be aware of the growing number of state and federal fraud investigations being opened since the COVID-19 pandemic began to wane.
In “Department of Justice Recovers $1.8B from Medical Laboratory Owners and Others Accused of Alleged Healthcare Fraud During COVID-19 Pandemic,” we covered how unscrupulous clinical laboratory operators quickly sought to take advantage of the critical demand for SARS-CoV-2 testing and defraud the federal government. And how, the resulting federal prosecutions involved dozens of medical laboratory owners and operators who paid back “hundreds of millions in alleged federal healthcare program losses,” according to Goodwin Life Sciences Perspectives.
The settlement with Sameday Health may serve to put other pandemic startups—and their clinical laboratories—on notice that deceitful and fraudulent practices will likely not go unnoticed by federal or state agencies.
—Andrea Downing Peck