Congress Needs to Protect Vulnerable Patients from Abusive Laboratory Practices

Mar 12, 2018

The below letter to the editor was sent to the New York Times in January in response to the article, In Pursuit of Liquid Gold. To read the New York Times article, click here.

Every family in America knows someone who has been affected by the opioid crisis or substance abuse addiction. The New York Times article, In Pursuit of Liquid Gold, (Jan. 3, 2018) rubs those wounds raw. The idea that medical professionals would try to profit off some of the most vulnerable people in society is unconscionable.

The Amerian Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) does not support the kind of business practices described in this article and does not believe that patients charged these exorbitant rates should have to pay them. These abusive business practices raise troubling legal, ethical, and moral concerns about the way patients with a history of drug abuse are being treated by some providers.

These arrangements appear to involve practices such as self-referral, markups, and/or fee-splitting, where the treating physician or business entity seeks to profit on their medical referrals to obtain outrageous and inappropriate profits on the costs of laboratory services. These exploitative arrangements create a conflict of interest that can result in higher medical costs for patients and third party payers.  Such practices are well-documented by peer-reviewed studies and governmental reports and audits.

The federal government, as well as certain states, have taken specific steps to protect patients, such as those covered by Medicare and Medicaid from these abusive practices. Unfortunately, these laws, such as the Stark Law, are often weak and ineffectual. Additionally, they do not necessarily protect individuals covered by private insurance such as the person detailed in your article. ASCP urges the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to use every tool at their disposal to stop and prevent these kinds of practices from exploiting patients. We also urge Congress and States to modernize laws intended to stop self-referral, fee-splitting and markup arrangements that are exploiting those in need of critical medical services.

There must be a way to deter rogue actors from engaging in these practices that do nothing more than prey on the disadvantaged.

Sincerely,

James L. Wisecarver, MD, PhD, FASCP

President, American Society for Clinical Pathology

E. Blair Holladay, PhD, MASCP, SCT(ASCP)CM

CEO, American Society for Clinical Pathology