Senators Want to Know If CMS Paid China-Linked Companies for Genetic Testing

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Sens. Marco Rubio and Chuck Grassley want more information on how the agency is protecting Americans’ genomic data from foreign entities.

A pair of Republican senators want an investigation into whether the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made payments for genomic data services to companies with Chinese ties.

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called on the Health and Human Services Department inspector general to examine whether CMS made payments for Americans’ genetic testing to entities that partner with the Chinese companies WuXi Nextcode Genomics and Shenzhen BGI Technology Company—and any others with ties to the Chinese government.

In a letter penned to HHS acting Inspector General Joanne Chiedi, the senators reference a warning made in February by the FBI that there are national security risks related to sharing genomic data—which involves genetic materials and DNA—and that China is a “primary source of those risks.” The lawmakers also highlighted a recent HHS IG report that found the National Institutes of Health gave the Chinese companies WuXi and BGI access to American’s genomic data.

“Both BGI and WuXi ... have publicly touted their partnerships with Huawei to expand genomic analytics,” the senators wrote. “This is the same company that the U.S. recently charged with conspiring to defraud our nation and stealing trade secrets, among other crimes.”

The senators said Huawei is a “state-directed Chinese telecommunications company” that intelligence agencies say has the capabilities “to conduct undetected espionage” through products within America’s supply chain.

The senators noted that WuXi became the first genetic sequencing facility in China to gain Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification from CMS in 2016, which labs are required to have ahead of accepting human samples for diagnostic testing. They also said BGI is partnering with American health care systems and that one of its subsidiaries is expanding into America’s market by the end of this year.

“WuXi and BGI’s U.S.-based partnerships give them unique access to genomic data, including Americans’ genomic data. Therefore, it is particularly alarming that these two companies have partnered with Huawei,” the senators said.

On top of directing the OIG to assess CMS and determine whether it paid U.S. entities with partnerships to companies with ties to the Chinese government, Rubio and Grassley also tasked Chiedi with determining whether CMS considers national security risks when determining whether payments are permissible. The senators also requested that she make recommendations to CMS and Congress regarding how to mitigate national security risks related to CMS payments associated with Americans’ genomic data.

“Taxpayers cover the costs of CMS payments,” the senators said. “Accordingly, they have every right to know if their money has gone to entities connected to the Chinese government.”

They asked for the IG to respond “no later than” June 24.

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