NEW YORK – A class action complaint was filed on Thursday in the US District Court of the Northern District of California against Natera, accusing the company of deceptive and unfair billing practices, and of bilking its customers out of thousands of dollars related to its noninvasive prenatal testing and carrier genetic screening tests.
The suit, which was brought by plaintiff Elizabeth Copley, "individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated," alleges that patients across the country are being "harassed by Natera's deceptive and fraudulent billing practices relating to the genetic testing services that the company offers."
Natera's brochures offering NIPT and carrier screening represent to patients that they will be charged no more than $249, Copley's brief said. Despite this advertising, the suit alleges, "thousands of women" have ended up with bills from Natera "running into thousands of dollars, leaving them shocked, angry, and stressed," because they didn't know the full extent of the expense they were signing up for. Had they known, the brief continues, they might have opted out of receiving these tests, as they're not considered to be lifesaving.
Natera's actions are specifically to blame for this deception, the suit continues, because the company doesn't disclose the full charge for its tests in its advertising materials or other marketing channels. Instead, the plaintiff alleges, it tells patients that once insurance information is provided, it generates an insurance estimate and contacts the patient to ask about further payment "if [it] estimates your cost to exceed [its] cash price," but then just goes ahead and runs the tests through insurance and bills patients the amount determined by the insurance as patient responsibility.
"The amounts billed can vary from $0 to thousands of dollars, leaving patients with absolutely no insight into the amount they could end up being charged," the brief states. "By its above conduct of misrepresentations and omissions, defendant causes a substantial financial burden on new, expecting, and prospective parents."
As further proof that this is a widespread problem, the plaintiff included in the suit reviews of Natera's billing practices from online platforms such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Reddit, and pregnancy forums such as whattoexpect.com.
For example, Better Business Bureau has 313 complaints in the last three years, 228 of which are related to Billings/Collection, while Yelp has 186 reviews, a majority of which are negative reviews that give the company a one star rating, the suit states.
"Similarly, a Reddit thread titled 'How is this not fraud? – Natera bill' has 101 comments with people narrating their horror experiences with Natera's billing practices, and whattoexpect.com contains several discussion threads titled 'Natera is a terrible company'; 'Beware Natera Billing!'; 'Natera Billing issues' 'Natera genetic testing bill $8000?!,'" the brief adds.
Finally, Copley outlines her own experience with the company, which started when she was pregnant with her second child. She had a Natera Panorama test done on the advice of her physician, after being assured that it wouldn't cost more than a couple of hundred dollars, and said she ended up with an $8,000 bill, 22 months after the date of the test.
The plaintiff is bringing the legal action on behalf of a nationwide class comprised of all persons in the US who had a Panorama, Horizon, Vistara, or Spectrum test performed by Natera, and were then billed more than $249 for that test.
The suit asks for a jury trial, and the plaintiff has asked the court to certify her suit as a class action, to declare Natera's conduct unlawful and enter an order enjoining the company from continuing to engage in the conduct alleged in the suit, to award restitution, and for attorneys' fees.
In an email to GenomeWeb, Natera said that while the company's policy is not to comment on pending litigation, "Natera delivers over one million tests per year to patients and families, and we strive to provide a positive experience for each and every one of them. We aim to work with families to ensure they have affordable and accessible options for prenatal screening."