“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 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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In an article for STAT, former FDA Commissioners Scott Gottlieb, MD (left), and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD (right), wrote, “The FDA is currently working from an outdated regulatory playbook that has left gaps in its oversight of safety and effectiveness and makes it more difficult to introduce new innovations. The [VALID Act] would strengthen protections for consumers and patients for both diagnostic tests and cosmetics and make it easier for manufacturers to introduce better products.” (Photo copyrights: FDA/American Well.)
Political Parties Negotiating
At press time, a draft spending bill had not yet been introduced to Congress as lawmakers from both political parties negotiate funding levels.
A source told The Dark Report that until legislators hammer out those details, add-ons such as the VALID Act or SALSA are stalled. There is no guarantee either lab measure will be added to the spending bill.
“We don’t have agreements to do virtually anything,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reporters on Dec. 6, according to Reuters. “We don’t even have an overall agreement on how much we want to spend,” he added. Reuters reported that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate were $25 billion apart in their proposals.
Congress could also pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open for a short time, which would allow lawmakers more opportunity to negotiate.
Former FDA Chiefs Weigh In
Meanwhile, proponents of the VALID Act have publicly turned the heat up for the bill. For example, STAT recently ran two commentaries—including a joint piece from a pair of former FDA commissioners—in support of the VALID Act.
“The VALID Act would create a consistent standard for all tests, regardless of the kind of facility they were developed in or made in, as well as a modern regulatory framework that’s uniquely designed for the recent and emerging technologies being used to develop tests,” wrote Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, in STAT on Dec. 5.
Gottlieb and McClellan served as FDA commissioners from 2017-2019 and 2002-2004 respectively. They both currently serve on various boards for biotech and healthcare companies.
Pathologists, Clinical Lab Directors Express Concerns about VALID Act
Opponents of the VALID Act contend that LDT innovation will be stifled if clinical laboratories, particularly those at academic medical centers, need to spend the time and money to go through formal FDA approval. There is evidence that working pathologists in academic settings have legitimate concerns about the negative consequences that might result if the VALID Act was passed as currently written.
In “Might Valid Act Support Be Waning in Congress?” The Dark Report covered how on June 1 more than 290 pathologists and clinical laboratory directors sent a grassroots letter to a Senate committee asking for a series of concessions to be made for academic medical center labs under the VALID Act.
It is reasonable to assert that the majority of clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists are supportive of the SALSA bill, which would stop the next round of scheduled price cuts—as much as a 15% price reduction to many tests—to the Medicare Part B Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedule (CLFS). That is not true of support for the VALID Act, as currently written. Sizeable segments of the diagnostics industry have taken opposing positions regarding passage of that legislation.
For these reasons, both bills will be closely watched in coming weeks as Congress works to fund the federal government while, at the same time, incorporating a variety of other bills under the omnibus bill, which is a considered a “must pass” by many senators and representatives.
Regulators and lawmakers are considering proposed changes to CLIA and PAMA involving medical laboratory services
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should monitor a series of federal regulatory developments underway this fall. The proposals and documents will potentially affect how lab managers and staff do their jobs and how much Medicare reimbursement medical laboratories receive for certain diagnostic tests next year.
Among the initiatives under consideration are the following:
Below are details about these laboratory-related federal bills and regulatory documents that observant laboratory managers will want to track in the coming months.
“Clinical laboratories need to make sure that they have proper requisitions and documentation for genetic testing that involves telemedicine.” Danielle Tangorre, JD (above), a partner at law firm Robinson and Cole LLP in Albany, NY, told Dark Daily. (Photo copyright: Robinson and Cole LLP.)
“The Practitioner does not have sufficient contact with or information from the purported patient to meaningfully assess the medical necessity of the items or services ordered or prescribed.
“The Telemedicine Company compensates the Practitioner based on the volume of items or services ordered or prescribed, which may be characterized to the Practitioner as compensation based on the number of purported medical records that the Practitioner reviewed.
“The Telemedicine Company only furnishes items and services to Federal health care program beneficiaries and does not accept insurance from any other payor.
“The Telemedicine Company does not expect Practitioners (or another Practitioner) to follow up with purported patients nor does it provide Practitioners with the information required to follow up with purported patients (e.g., the Telemedicine Company does not require Practitioners to discuss genetic testing results with each purported patient).”
“In the telehealth space, the issue the OIG has flagged is that genetic tests are being ordered without patient interaction or with only brief telephonic conversations,” Danielle Tangorre, JD, a partner at law firm Robinson & Cole LLP in Albany, N.Y., told Dark Daily.
New Bill May Eliminate 2023 Medical Laboratory Payment Cuts Under PAMA
The bill proposes to move regulatory oversight of LDTs from CLIA to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Champions of the bill argue that FDA regulation is needed for in vitro clinical tests (IVCTs) because they are similar to medical devices and bring with them patient safety concerns.
The bill seemed ready for a Senate vote over the summer but stalled. On Sept. 30, Congress passed a short-term resolution to keep the federal government funded. During negotiation, the VALID Act was removed from the larger spending package, according to Boston law firm Ropes and Gray.
Expect discussion to renew in Congress about the VALID Act after the mid-term elections.
Clinical laboratory leaders and pathology group managers will want to closely monitor the progress of these four federal legislative and regulatory developments. Each of the possible actions described above would significantly change the status quo in the compliance requirements and reimbursement arrangements for both clinical laboratory testing and anatomic pathology services.
In the survey, which was conducted by Dark Daily, 91% of respondents said FDA pre-market approval of LDTs would decrease clinical laboratories’ ability to bring innovative tests to market. (See Figure 1.) The other 9% felt it would have no effect on innovation. Zero of the respondents said FDA involvement would increase innovative tests.
“Development of LDT tests has been the mission of most of the labs, and it meets the need for patient care,” noted one respondent in the survey. “Moving LDTs under FDA will create more obstacles for labs to offer the tests.”
To be fair, the survey had limited responses—34 in total. The poll went out to thousands of Dark Daily readers. We found that response rate surprising given how many labs will be affected if the VALID Act becomes law.
Looking at survey results, 80% “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” that new LDT requirements, such as those found in the VALID Act, are needed. (See Figure 2.)
By comparison, 65% “strongly agreed” or “agreed” with modernizing CLIA requirements for LDTs, as called for in the VITAL Act.
Those numbers shifted somewhat depending on the lab setting of the respondent. For example, just looking at commercial labs, opposition to the VALID Act remained similar, but support for modernizing CLIA jumped up to 88%. When looking at just hospitals, independent labs, and academic labs, numbers for both topics remained consistent.
When filtering the answers, the number of lab employees in a setting had little effect on survey results.
Political Battle Continues Over Laboratory Developed Tests
Clinical laboratory industry groups and others have been amassing to oppose or support the VALID Act. For example, the Advanced Medical Technology Association and The Pew Charitable Trusts are behind the bill.
However, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Association for Molecular Pathology, and new Coalition for Innovative Laboratory Testing are against the VALID Act.