Personal Genetics Education Project

Privacy and informed consent: “Operation Double Helix” charges 35 people with fraud over genetic testing

Even with a good understanding of informed consent and an awareness of the risks and benefits of genetic testing, there are unfortunately ways in which well-meaning people, hoping to use genetic testing to improve their health, can run into problems. The US Department of Justice has charged 35 people with fraud, alleging doctors and others engaged in illegal practices when offering genetic testing to vulnerable populations in an effort to defraud Medicaid. According to reporting from National Public Radio, “It was one of the largest health care fraud schemes in U.S. history, Beemsterboer, says, and it worked on many levels, involving many players — from “those collecting patient information, to those selling it, to those doctors corruptly prescribing these genetic tests, to the labs corruptly billing the Medicare program.” (US Justice Department Charges 35 People in Fradulatent Genetic Testing Scheme).

Fraud is a common problem – and genetic testing is one area where many people, even highly informed consumers – can fall prey to bad actors. In this case, how was the fraud allegedly perpetrated? From Stat News, “The alleged scam worked like this: Officials said a telemarketing or in-person “recruiter” would convince a Medicare enrollee to take a genetic test, assuring them that the program would pay the full cost. The patient would provide their Medicare information. A doctor in league with the fraudsters would approve the test, and collect a kickback from the recruiter company. A lab participating in the scheme would run the test, bill Medicare, and share payments collected from the government with the recruiter.” (See more at: “Feds take down alleged Medicaid gene test fraud that peddled cheek swabs“).

pgEd is keeping an eye on this story and will share developments as they emerge.