Theranos Inc., the Silicon Valley startup seeking to challenge traditional lab testing, hired a former policy adviser to Hillary Clinton as its top lawyer, a key role in the company’s push for legislation to let consumers order more medical tests for themselves.
Heather King had already been working for Theranos as an external adviser for almost a year as a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. Now she’ll be the company’s general counsel. In an interview, she said she helped lead the company’s push for an Arizona law that lets people order bloodwork without a doctor’s order.
Theranos is backing such legal changes to help establish a market for its technology, which the company says can conduct a bevy of medical tests with just a finger prick’s worth of blood, instead of requiring vials taken from veins. The startup also lists its prices online, in contrast to lab giants Quest Diagnostics Inc. and Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings. The idea is to let individuals take charge of their own health through preventative testing, Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Holmes said in an interview.
“It’s a basic human right for people to get access to information,” she said.
On Theranos’s website, a cholesterol tests lists for $2.99, and a panel for sexually transmitted infections costs $59.95.
As general counsel, King said she will continue to work on regulatory issues, as well as manage intellectual property for Theranos.
“A lack of transparency in pricing has contributed to the nation’s persistently high health-care costs,” said King in an interview. “Opening up laws in the way Arizona’s did puts consumers in the driving seat.”
King declined to comment on where Theranos would next push for more legislation like Arizona’s, which was signed in April. Before joining Boies Schiller, King was special assistant and policy adviser to Clinton when the former First Lady served in the U.S. Senate.
Through a partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Theranos tests can be done at 40 “wellness centers” in Walgreens stores in Arizona and one outlet in Palo Alto, California. Holmes said she plans to move on to other states, but with care to maintain high standards.
“Arizona is a model we’ve invested in to create the best framework to replicate,” she said. “Now we’re thinking about growing, but we haven’t announced anything yet.”
Theranos has started adding more specialized tests to its menu, such as genetic testing for mutations in the BRCA1 gene that increase an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. Some of the specialty tests require traditional blood-drawing from the veins.
Theranos’s designs for lab technology, including hardware and software, have made it possible for the startup to offer tests at steep discounts, even when they’re not done with the finger-prick test Theranos has promoted, Holmes said.
“We want people to have end-to-end service, so over the last few months we’ve been quietly adding tests that historically have been the most expensive and making them available at 50 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate, or even a 90 percent discount,” she said.
The startup now offers a hepatitis C genotyping test for $117.96, which is more than 50 percent cheaper than the Medicare reimbursement rate, Theranos said in an e-mail.
Theranos is working to make such specialty tests available without drawing blood in large quantities, Holmes said.