Seniors advised to avoid ‘free’ genetic tests

Data pix.

EDMOND, Okla. - A quick cheek swab was all it took.

Gary Hanneman and several of his friends were approached by a genetic testing company during a dinner for seniors at an Edmond church.

“They asked me if it would be okay if they took a sample, a cheek sample to check for cancer,” he recalled.

He was told the tests were basically free since Medicare was taking care of the bill.

Medicare did end up paying to the tune of $6,500 for genetic testing Gary's not convinced he even needed.

“Well, I've had some little skin deals, but they weren't cancerous,” Gary said.

News of what happened to Gary caught the attention of Oklahoma City Police Triad Coordinator Sheryl Presley.

“It's very alarming, very concerning, so we want to get this shut down,” Presley said.

Presley immediately alerted the In Your Corner team and asked Ray Walker from the Oklahoma Insurance Department to inspect Gary's DNA test results and invoice.

“They're coming to churches,” he told News 4. “They're going to senior centers.”

He adds, by Medicare rules, the test must be ordered by the patient's treating physician.

Gary says he never talked to a doctor prior to his tests being ordered.

Jeffrey Fidone is the doctor who signed off on Gary's tests.

We know the pulmonary specialist from Texas is also licensed to practice medicine in Oklahoma.

Check out the address he gave the Oklahoma Medical Board.

It was just updated in July and traces back to a Houston hospital, except we know Fidone hasn't been there in a while.

According to administrators at HCA Houston Healthcare Southeast, he was only with them for six months until his temporary privileges expired last year.

Walker says the doctor who signed for Gary’s test has no vested interest in his health.

“He basically was signing these orders, because that's what he gets paid to do,” he said.

No one can seem to tell us why a struggling rural hospital far away in Pennsylvania is handling the billing for genetic testing performed on Gary and others, but we have a hunch.

Ellwood City Medical Center has been on the verge of financial ruin, and according to news reports, under investigation for bounced checks, withholding wages and not paying health insurance premiums for its employees.

They’re desperate like other small hospitals, so one way to keep their doors open is to enter into a lab billing agreement because Medicare is likely to pay more for tests billed by rural hospitals over outpatient labs.

The genetic testing lab that processed Gary's cheek swab sample is Fulgent Genetics.

The company’s Vice President of Commercial Operations says they "are prohibited from commenting on patient details, but take patient privacy and security very seriously and would never share sensitive information with anyone."

The In Your Corner bottom line, too much is unknown.

Last summer the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General warned seniors to refuse unsolicited requests for their Medicare numbers.

Just say no to "free" genetic tests, unless it's your primary care provider, someone you really trust to handle your DNA and personal information.

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