Bill would allow penalties for declining genetic testing in workplace
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 House committee last week becomes law.
Employers, in general, don’t have that power under existing federal laws that protect genetic privacy and nondiscrimination. But a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee would allow employers to get around that if the information is collected as part of workplace wellness programs.
Workplace wellness programs sometimes give discounts on health insurance to employees who complete health-risk assessments or charge more for smoking.
Under the Affordable Care Act, 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.
The bill is under review by other House committees and still must be considered by the Senate. But it has already received strong criticism from many groups and House Democrats. A letter to the committee from nearly 70 organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP and March of Dimes, said the legislation, if enacted, would undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA.
Congress passed GINA to prohibit discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. An exception allows employees to provide that information as part of voluntary wellness programs. That means no incentives to provide the information or penalties for not providing it.
The proposed bill would allow employers to impose penalties of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the employee’s health insurance on those who choose to keep such information private. That forces employees to choose between affordable insurance and protecting genetic privacy, said Derek Scholes, director of science policy at the American Society of Human Genetics, which opposes the bill.
The average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health coverage in 2016 was $18,142, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Under the bill, a wellness program could charge employees an extra $5,443 in annual premiums if they choose not to share their genetic and health information.
The bill, HR 1313, was approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. A committee statement said the bill provides employers “the legal certainty they need to offer employee wellness plans.” Its supporters include the American Benefits Council, which represents major employers. Existing laws have burdensome rules that jeopardize these wellness programs, it said.