Proposed Bill Threatens to Undo Measures for Genetic Privacy in the Workplace

By Mohamad Hamze

            For the most part, we are afforded privacy when it comes to our genes thanks to legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008. Furthermore, it is common for workplaces to enact wellness programs where participation in the form of voluntary genetic testing is allowed, so long as there are no penalties or incentives implied with providing one’s genetic information.

            However, a bill on its way to US House committee would allow employers to demand genetic test results from their employees and punish those who refuse with premiums of up to 30 percent of their existing health insurance costs – a fee averaging over $5000 per year for employees across the country. This bill, entitled the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (HR 1313), was introduced by House Republicans in the wake of the failure of the recent GOP health care act with the intent of reducing health care costs for employees.

            Proponents of the bill argue that it has the potential to circumvent untidy federal regulations that make wellness programs difficult for a workplace to enforce, thus improving employee health and decreasing health care costs. Opponents counter that the bill would eliminate the possibility for voluntary wellness programs in the workplace, and that it is a thinly-veiled means to evade already-established legislation that provides genetic privacy and protection against wellness discrimination. While the bill has been shelved for the time being, its progress so far has insinuated that the case for genetic privacy is not closed just yet.

 

Sun, Lena H. "Employees Who Decline Genetic Testing Could Face Penalties under Proposed Bill." The Washington Post. WP Company, 11 Mar. 2017.