Genetic testing for workplace wellness program participants: Coming soon to a company near you?

Ten jumping jacks and a blood sample, please

It sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are advancing a bill that would allow employers to require employees to undergo genetic testing in order to participate in voluntary workplace wellness programs. Workers who refuse may face significantly higher health care premiums as a penalty. Lena Sun reports for the Washington Post about the proposed Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act:

Employers could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs if a bill approved by a U.S. House committee this week becomes law.

…Under the Affordable Care Act [a/k/a Obamacare], employers are allowed to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent — and in some cases 50 percent — for employees who voluntarily participate in a wellness program where they’re required to meet certain health targets.

…But the House legislation would allow employers to impose penalties of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the employee’s health insurance on those [wellness program participants] who choose to keep such information private.

Currently the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employers and ensurers from using genetic information for discriminatory purposes. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a recognized disability, which could be identified through genetic testing.

As Sun reports, the dozens of organizations that oppose this bill — which include “the American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP, March of Dimes and the National Women’s Law Center” — argue that the proposed legislation would substantially undermine the basic privacy protections provided by GINA and the ADA.

The bill has passed through the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, with all Republicans voting yes and all Democrats voting no.

If enacted into law, this means that if you want to participate in a workplace-sponsored program to stop smoking, lose weight, or learn mindfulness practices, then you can be required to give your genetic information to your employer as a condition for doing so. If you don’t want to provide a genetic sample but still want to join the wellness program, then your employer can boost your health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent.

The bill itself is alarming enough, but the door it opens is positively frightening. Even if it doesn’t become law, the fact that it has been quickly ushered through a House committee by a pure party line vote sends a disturbing signal about the kind of policy proposals that are holding sway in Washington D.C. today. These are not normal times, and we should all be paying close attention.

4 responses

  1. Hopefully in Canada, Bill S-201 will be finalized prohibiting the use of genetic testing. The bill has now successfully passed through the House of Commons and the Senate. It is anticipated to receive Royal Assent, and thus become effective law, within the next few days. These are indeed frightening times and privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past in so many ways.

  2. Thank you for calling attention to this. I had no idea. This is outrageous. If the Republicans (or anyone else) want to promote wellness, maybe they need to start with improving the health of our workplace cultures – dysfunctional as most are. Stress makes people sick.

  3. Good day
    This reminds me of the days when we had to undergo IQ tests in order to be interviewed for a job. The outcome of the IQ tests were never shared as it was feared that candidates would ‘jump out of the 19th floor windows’ if they knew the results. ☹

    Kind regards

    Ms Pritima Osman
    Child Justice, Children’s Courts
    and Departmental Drug Master Plan
    Dept. of Justice and Constitutional Development
    National Office
    Pretoria

    Landline: 012 357 8205
    Fax : 0866402076
    Email: POsman@justice.gov.za

    “May you use those gifts you have received.” Saint Theresa

  4. Exactly when has government involvement ever lowered the cost of medical care? When have wellness programs made anybody healthier? When have coding processes healed anyone?

    It’s always about money. Somebody stands to benefit from HR1313 and it’s probably the wellness companies who would make big bucks selling our genetic information. If they don’t do it, our government will. Right now our federal government is supporting HL7 initiatives to electronically code family history information. They say our information will be protected and we believe them, right?

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