Coronavirus testing sales by ‘concierge’ doctors under review by medical board
By Adam Elmahrek,
March 23, 2020
The Medical Board of California is looking into physicians selling COVID-19 tests while sick people around the country can’t get tested because of a nationwide shortage, a board spokesman said Monday morning.
The inquiry comes after The Times reported that “concierge” doctors who cater to rich people and celebrities have been selling testing to patients and their families, in some cases even if they have no symptoms or any other reason to be tested.
Dr. Jay Gordon, a Santa Monica pediatrician, told clients who purchased the tests for $250 each — to be taken at home with a cheek-swab and then sent to a lab to process results — to save the tests until they’re feeling sick.
Gordon said in an earlier interview with The Times that he’s looking out for the best interests of his patients, but acknowledged that his offer represents profound inequality in the American healthcare system.
Gordon said he didn’t believe the medical board would find anything wrong.
“They won’t find anything. There’s nothing to be found,” Gordon said. “[Patients] were asking for tests. They were available nowhere else. They remain very much in short supply.”
Another physician, Dr. David Nazarian in Beverly Hills, said last week he was planning to open a drive-through for rapid blood tests, shipped from China. He said he would charge patients who use the service about $500 or $600, which would also include a consultation and follow-up as well as help pay for the cost of labor and protective equipment to administer the test.
Nazarian has so far been conducting nasal-swab tests only for patients of his concierge practice, including “influential people, A-list celebrities, and CEOs,” if they meet the criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have had a lot of new patients contact us who money wasn’t a factor for; they were willing to pay whatever was needed,” he told The Times last week. “But we’re not looking at this time in regards to ‘How can we make more money doing testing?’ or ‘Who we can charge more to do a test.’ It’s actually really trying to take care of the patients we already have and then figuring out how we can increase testing and do things for the good of the community.”
Nazarian told The Times on Monday that he plans to offer the rapid tests only if they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s unclear how many doctors are offering such testing or what specifically the medical board is scrutinizing. The spokesman declined to go into detail or say whether the board was looking into any particular doctor, saying only that the agency was aware of The Times’ story and had decided to “look into the matter.”
But state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) denounced selling the tests at high prices to whomever can afford them, saying it was unprofessional conduct that the medical board should investigate.
The medical board is charged with investigating complaints against physicians, and can sanction doctors or revoke their licenses for negligent or unethical behavior.
Some have also questioned whether the tests being sold are legitimate or effective. The FDA on Friday publicly warned that it has not authorized any at-home tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Federal legislation passed this month would expand access to free COVID-19 testing to the public.
Sion Roy, president of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., said health professionals should use only federally approved tests and testing should be “equally accessible to all Angelenos.” He said his organization would support any measures taken by the state medical board against doctors who sell unapproved tests for exorbitant prices.
“If you preferentially test one group of people over another, the testing strategy won’t work. Inequitable access to care is not something our association stands for,” Roy said.
Gordon, who said he charges a concierge fee that averages more than $300 a month, said his business will not be turning a profit on selling the tests and instead will donate all excess funds to the Save the Children charity.
After The Times story published, he texted a reporter a donation receipt for $10,220.