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Pop-up companies falsified covid test results, Minnesota AG alleges in new lawsuit

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has sued two coronavirus testing businesses that allegedly failed to deliver test results and falsified negative results in the first major legal action against companies that in recent weeks have been the subject of scores of consumer complaints nationwide.

The Center for COVID Control LLC and Doctors Clinical Laboratory Inc., both Illinois-based companies, engaged in “deceptive and misleading practices” that violate Minnesota’s consumer protection laws, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Hennepin County. The companies advertised free coronavirus testing, in the form of rapid antigen tests and the more sensitive PCR tests, but in some cases never delivered the lab results; in other instances, Ellison’s office said, test results were falsified or inaccurate.

Though the tests were provided to customers for free, the companies sought reimbursement for the tests from customers’ insurance companies or federal agencies for uninsured customers; Doctors Clinical Laboratory alone has billed the federal government more than $113 million for covid-19 tests administered to uninsured patients throughout the country, including in Minnesota, the complaint says.

In a statement, Ellison (D) said he is pursuing legal action against the companies to hold them accountable for “deceiving Minnesotans and undermining the public’s trust in testing.”

“My job is to fight for Minnesotans’ security and help them live with dignity, safety, and respect. Making sure that Minnesotans have accurate tools to them safe from the COVID-19 pandemic is a key part of that job,” Ellison said, vowing to use “every tool” at his disposal to go after companies that undermine public safety.

Neither the Center for COVID Control (CCC) nor Doctors Clinical Laboratory immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

Pop-up covid test sites have ballooned as demand surges. Officials warn consumers to be cautious.

Last week, the Rolling Meadows, Ill., based CCC said it was suspending operations for a week. The Jan. 13 announcement came as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it was “actively investigating numerous complaints about multiple laboratories and testing sites” associated with the CCC.

CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj last week blamed testing failures on rapid company growth and a surge in testing demand.

While Ellison’s office is the first to pursue legal action against a coronavirus testing company, attorneys general in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Oregon have issued consumer alert warnings in recent days after fielding complaints about missing or dubious test results, improper sample collection and storage, and questionable information collection.

Pop-up testing sites have proliferated as demand for surges. Since large hospital systems and state and local health departments operate walk-in and drive-through testing sites, consumers complaints in states such as Oregon and Illinois reveal that customers are not always aware the pop-up testing site they visited is not affiliated with a doctor’s office or health agency; some of the CCC’s 300 locations are pop-up tailgate-style tents or shipping containers.

“They don’t realize they’re just a business that’s unlicensed and unregulated,” Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Chicago and Northern Illinois previously told The Washington Post.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum (D) is investigating CCC for possible violations of Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act, a spokesperson with her office told The Post last week.