uBiome patients, insiders describe lab test startup's questionable practices

After genomics startup uBiome's San Francisco headquarters was raided by the FBI as part of an investigation into its billing practices, patients and company insiders have come forward to discuss those practices.

Marc Harris, who ordered uBiome's SmartGut microbiome test for insight into his rare gastrointestinal disorder, told CNBC that he was sent six tests instead of the single one he had ordered. He only completed two, but his insurance was charged five times, for $2,970 per test.

Insiders and internal documents confirmed that uBiome regularly billed patients without their consent and sent them higher-cost "upgraded" samples that they had not requested. Insurance companies and federal Medicare plans were often billed multiple times for the same set of tests.

The company also reportedly pressured its hired physicians to order tests without much patient communication, and even if a patient showed no symptoms necessitating a microbiome test. According to CNBC, at least one physician was dismissed because they were not approving tests quickly enough. From its 2012 founding, uBiome used billable samples, rather than actual insurance reimbursements, as its key growth metric.

The startup is now under investigation not only by the FBI, but also by the California Department of Insurance and insurers such as Aetna, Anthem and Blue Cross Blue Shield. On May 1, uBiome announced that its co-founders had been placed on administrative leave.

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