SEABROOK — A new law passed with unanimous support in the Maryland General assembly giving residents access to convenient at-home medical lab testing went into effect on Oct. 1.
The new law, HB 526, would allow Marylanders to purchase at-home kits for laboratory tests, which are available for conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, sexually trasmitted disease (STDs), fertility tests, food sensitivities, and more.
The ability to purchase these kinds of tests is allowed in most states but for a long time was banned in Maryland and is still banned in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
According to State Delegate Bonnie Cullison (D-19), who sponsored the bill, lawmakers in Maryland had not passed similar legislation due to the desire to be cautious of protecting people and their health care.
“We in Maryland, I think, want to be extremely cautious around protecting people and their health care. We always wanted to make sure that folks are guided responsibly by physicians and health care providers around what their healthcare needs are,” she said. “That’s why our laws prevented this kind of proactive, self-directed kind of thinking around testing because we limited it to being guided by physicians instead of the individual.”
According to the General Assembly’s analysis for HB 526, the previous law said that entities have to have a Maryland license to perform laboratory tests. In addition, “laboratories are prohibited from advertising or soliciting business from anyone except for physicians, medical laboratories, or other health entities.” Violations were considered a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $100 for the first offense and $500 for each subsequent conviction for a breach of the same provision.
However, the new bill comes with a couple of limitations as it only covers tests that can be done responsibly, Cullison said. The doctor would have to be the prescriber in more complicated cases.
Tests are limited to diagnostic laboratory tests or procedures for screening, diagnosing, managing, or treating a physical or mental condition or disease, according to the General Assembly. Additionally, ancestry testing is limited to the detection and reporting of genetic evidence of parental lineage and genetic ethnicity.
Not only does at-home lab testing allow people to make their own safe decisions, but it is also much more affordable, Cullison said.
“It makes the tests, for some individuals, much more affordable because if you have high deductible plans, then you are probably paying for your lab test out of your pocket.
“If you have to go to a doctor to get the script for the test, you’ve paid already for that visit, and then you go to the lab, and the cost of the labs tend to be higher,” Cullison said.
While in the past Maryland banned at-home testing to protect consumers, Julia Cheek, the founder of home lab testing company EverlyWell, said home testing is the key to getting affordable, high-quality tests to all citizens.
Cheek founded EverlyWell four years ago with the mission of providing everyone access to transparent and insightful lab tests. The company’s digital platform connects consumers with existing, independent, certified labs for at-home collection tests, which are ordered and reviewed by board-certified physicians. After submitting samples, they provide results online with evidence-based insights, suggestions and next steps.
“This is really disrupting the really outdated and stodgy model today of having to get a paper requisition from your doctor, have no idea if your insurance is going to cover it or if you’re going to have to get hit with a leftover bill and then usually never seeing the results that you get from that test either, and trying to figure out what it means for you,” Cheek said.
Cheek helped to write HB 526 and personally met with legislators throughout the process to advocate for legalizing access to at-home testing because “Marylanders deserve the right to access affordable health solutions,” she said.
“It was important that we looked at how many people lived without immediate access to a brick and mortar draw center and what are the health care costs and lab testing costs to Marylanders in this state,” Cheek said.
In drafting HB 526, Cheek said it was discovered that Maryland has some of the highest health care costs in the nation and several million people who did not live in proximity to a lab, many of whom lived in rural parts of Maryland, avoided treatment due to not knowing the cost or too high of a cost. According to Cheek, it became apparent to the legislature that the original law no longer fit into in this age of the consumer and digital health.
“So many people have no idea how much their health care bills will cost; no one knows how much their health care bills will cost,” she said. “Many people just find it to be too daunting to take time off work to actually figure out what their symptoms mean, to go to the doctor and then go to the lab and get hit with a lab bill after that. Our hope is that we’re just able to educate Marylanders that this is an alternative.”
With EverlyWell tests being available on shelves in CVS and Target across Maryland in the near future in addition to online, Cheek added that giving people easy access to these and other home lab tests are about improving health care outcomes and closing gaps in access.
“I think this bill is about moving us in the direction of people being much more proactive in their own health care and I think that’s a positive direction,” Cullison said.