By Bill MacKenzie,
CAUTION – GS LABS’ COVID TESTING SITE AHEAD
That’s my advice to Oregonians considering going to a pop-up Covid testing site operated by GS Labs, an Omaha, Nebraska–based company.
I took a break Friday morning and stopped by the GS Labs pop-up site at a former restaurant 10935 SW 68th Parkway (Google says this is in Portland; GS Labs says it’s in Tigard). A worker told me I needed to schedule an appointment online and the test cost would be $179, but I might be able to get the testing center to agree to a 50% discount. He added that GS Labs only takes commercial insurance or cash payments, and does not accept Medicare, federal health insurance that covers much of the elderly population most vulnerable to COVID-19.
(NOTE: Medicare pays for COVID-19 tests performed by a lab, such as PCR or antigen/rapid tests, at no cost to you when the test is ordered by an authorized health care professional. Those in a Medicare Advantage Plan should check with their plan to see if their plan offers coverage and payment for at-home tests.)
The GS Labs appointments website allows visitors to pick a location in eight states across the country, view available appointments and select a payment option, either “Book with Insurance (*Rapid Antigen and Standard PCR only)“ or “Book Rapid PCR (*Out of Pocket only $299)”
Formed in January 2020, GS Labs spun out of a clinic, 88 Med, owned by City+Ventures, a privately held Omaha, Nebraska-based investment and development company. 88 Med specialized in cosmetic procedures and hormone treatments.
City+Ventures was founded in 2012 to pursue strategic business and real estate opportunities both locally and regionally. Two men, Danny White and Chris Erickson, co-founded the company and are now co-owners. White has a B.S. in Business Administration from Skidmore College in New York. Erickson has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University.
The company’s website says, “We are a group of business savvy, community-minded individuals….” Based on its covid testing practices, “community minded” hardly applies.
Some health insurers have refused to pay GS Labs’ fees, contending that the laboratory is price-gouging during a public health crisis, the New York Times reported in Sept. 2021.
A Blue Cross plan in Missouri, for example, has sued GS Labs over its prices, seeking a ruling that would void $10.9 million in outstanding claims. In August 2021, the insurer claimed that the fees were “disaster profiteering” and in violation of public policy.
Suburban Seattle-based Premera Blue Cross sued GS Labs on Oct. 14, 2021, alleging that the company was exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by overcharging for COVID-19 testing. Premera alleged that GS charged prices ranging from $380 to $979 per test, which often amounted to 10 times more than what other labs were charging.
Premera further alleges GS Labs “peppers its claims with falsehoods,” including false diagnoses to get higher payments, and it frequently fails to maintain high quality levels in its testing and reporting of results.
According to Pharmacy Practice News, Premera’s suit alleged that GS Labs has improperly filed claims for more than $26 million worth of COVID-19 tests. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, which filed a lawsuit against GS Labs in July 2021, alleged that the lab provider billed $9.2 million in improper charges for COVID-19 testing.
In an Oct. 2021 interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Chris Erickson said he and his partners are proud of their testing business. He said it helped consumers navigate an unpredictable pandemic at a time of inadequate testing options. Fees billed to insurers reflect a high level of service and the cost of building an infrastructure of equipment and trained personnel in an “insanely short period of time,” Erickson said.
It’s not just insurance companies that are less then enthralled with GS Labs.
Indeed.com reviews of working for GS Labs are largely harsh. Typical are the following:
“Management seems to have their own motives (money)…Management seems disorganized, unfair, and corrupt based on their own agendas.”
“… it is clear, they work with no morals, no ethical treatment of employees and you are just a number…Greedy company,”
“It’s almost like being in middle school. If you are lazy, unmotivated and are just looking for a paycheck, then GSLabs Omaha is the place for you.”
“Patients are being lied to just so this company can make a profit.”
So, what to do if you want a Covid test?
The Biden Administration announced today that it is purchasing one billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests to give to Americans for free. A half-billion tests will be available for order on January 19th and will be mailed directly to American households. The initial program will allow four free tests to be requested per residential address. Starting January 19th, Americans will be able to order their tests online at COVIDTests.gov, and tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering.
(NOTE: Guard against scammers trying to steal your personal information. When ordering tests, use the official, secure government website: https://COVIDtests.gov. Watch out for phone scammers, too. If you get a phone call requesting information so that free at-home tests can be mailed to you, hang up — it’s a scam!)
The Administration is also highlighting that there are over 20,000 free testing sites across the nation, including many pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program, as well as federal surge free testing sites, with more free testing sites opening each week. Millions of free, at-home COVID-19 tests have also been delivered to thousands of community health centers and rural health clinics to distribute to their patients, with more delivered each week.
In addition, the Administration provided schools $10 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to get tests to K-12 school districts. And, the Administration invested nearly $6 billion in ARP funding to cover free testing for uninsured individuals, and support testing in correctional facilities, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and mental health facilities.
Just this week, the Administration also announced that starting January 15th, private health insurance companies will be required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests for free—and made an additional 10 million COVID-19 tests available to schools nationwide, each month.
In the meantime, the Oregon Attorney General has issued a consumer warning:
“The huge demand for Covid-19 testing of all kinds—at home tests, rapid antigen tests, PCR testsâ€“brings bad actors and some businesses trying to make a quick buck out from the shadows,” Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said. “We see it all the time in moments of desperation like this testing urgency.”
So hang in there.