PHOENIX — The state attorney general is accusing a major testing laboratory of lying to consumers about how quickly they will get their results.
In a letter to the attorney for the firm, Joshua Weiss, an assistant attorney general, claims that it frequently took nine days — and more — for Sonora Quest to process COVID-19 tests.
More to the point, Weiss said that was longer than consumers were being promised. And that, he said, violates the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.
Weiss also said that Sonora Quest, which processes most of the state’s tests, “has failed to deliver on several promises for cleaning out its testing backlog.”
He said there are indications that situation is improving. But Weiss said he’s not convinced that’s because the lab is doing a better job.
“This may be a function of decreased demand due to consumer frustration over the length of time it takes to get test results from Sonora Quest,” he wrote to company attorney Brian Mosley. And Weiss said even if the problem appears to be resolved, his office “remains concerns that if there is another influx of tests directed to Sonora Quest, the same problems will reoccur.”
There was no immediate response from either Mosley or the public relations firm that represents the lab.
The company admitted that in late July it had a backlog of 60,000 tests. But the company’s web site on Thursday said that active infection testing is reporting reported in less than 24 hours for hospital customers “and the majority of other testing is reported within 2-3 days.”
This is more than just a company issue. Gov. Doug Ducey announced in early July that the state was providing $2 million to Sonora Quest to purchase new equipment.
In its most recent posting, the company said it is adding test lines with the goal of being able to conduct 60,000 tests a day by the end of August. And Sonora Quest claims that its testing capacity currently exceeds demand.
But Weiss said that still leaves the fact that Sonora Quest provided customers and health care providers with inaccurate wait times “when time and contact tracing was exigent.”
What allows the attorney general’s office to get involved is the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. It makes it illegal to use deception, fraud, false pretenses, false promises, misrepresentation or concealment, suppression of any material fact when giving information to consumers.
“Given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and the aforementioned lack of disclosure to potential consumers and health care providers regarding wait times, Sonora Quest’s conduct appears likely to have caused substantial injury to consumers,” Weiss wrote.
The letter demands that the lab “immediately and permanently cease and desist from providing inaccurate information to consumers or health care providers regarding COVID-19 testing turnaround times,” with a deadline of 5 p.m. on Friday.
Even if the company comes into compliance, that may not end the inquiry. Weiss is telling the lab to preserve all written and electronic materials about its turnaround time “in anticipation of consumer fraud litigation.”