A bone-marrow registry and medical laboratory company that used fashion models wearing high heels and short skirts to recruit potential donors will pay the state of Massachusetts $520,000 for engaging in an improper marketing practice, state officials said.
Mass. bone-marrow donor recruiting case settled
The Caitlin Raymond International Registry and UMass Memorial Health Ventures paid models to help recruit potential registrants during donor drives at malls, festivals and sporting ventures, including Gillette Stadium. The practice drew sharp criticism from officials in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, prompting an apology and a promise to stop using models from UMass Memorial Health Care in December 2010.
According to a final judgment filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court, the registry and lab company — both subsidiaries of UMass Memorial Health Care — will pay restitution to Massachusetts consumers for any out-of-pocket payments they previously made for donor testing. They will also pay the state $500,000 for initiatives to improve health care services and to combat unlawful marketing practices. They also agreed to not charge health plans more than $175 over the next five years for donor testing.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said that beginning in 2007, UMass Memorial laboratories performed the vast majority of the DNA tests of individual samples collected by the bone marrow registry staff. The number of donor tests performed by UMass Memorial increased significantly, from about 7,000 in 2008 to more than 40,000 in 2010. The amount UMass Memorial charged for individual donor tests ranged from network rates of several hundred dollars up to more than $4,000.
The complaint says that in an effort to boost registration, both the registry and UMass Memorial Health Ventures improperly waived copayments and deductible amounts for the testing of potential donors, gave away free T-shirts, held free raffles and gave bonuses to employees who enlisted potential donors with health insurance. They also failed to disclose to potential donors the cost of the tests.
The judgment prohibits the registry and lab from using models and paying bonuses for enrolling insured donors.
"No health care provider should be allowed to use gimmicks and free gifts to increase the volume of services covered by health plans for their own financial gain," Coakley said in a statement.
Douglas Brown, senior vice president and general counsel of UMass Memorial Healthcare Inc., said UMass Memorial "expressly denies that any of its practices violated any laws or caused harm to any person." He said UMass Memorial Healthcare has voluntarily agreed to discontinue the practices.
"We regret that certain past practices may have undermined the public perception of the life-saving importance of donor recruitment," Brown said in a statement. He added that the registry continued to maintain its database and match donors even as donor recruitment efforts were voluntarily suspended during the attorney general's review.
Brown said 48 patients received transplants from donors in the past year as a result of the registry's past recruitment efforts.
Brown said that UMass Memorial Healthcare's reimbursement rates for the lab tests were negotiated directly with most insurers in the same way hospitals across the country negotiate reimbursement rates for other tests and procedures.
"We recognize that although these rates were fairly negotiated, the rates charged were perceived as inappropriate and going forward we have agreed to a reduced rate for these tests for all payers," he said.
Coakley said both the registry and lab company cooperated with the state's investigation and consented to the final judgment entered in court Thursday. She said the registry has already refunded Massachusetts consumers nearly $100,000 and paid several times that amount to reimburse health plans.
Officials in New Hampshire, where the models were also used, planned a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.