GOP Legislation Would Coerce Employees Into Providing Employers Genetic Information

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There is something surreal about seeing a Republican ask the question Bill Kristol asked today because the rest of us feel like we already know the answer, and have known it for some time:

As it turns out, the bill in question, HR 1313, the “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act,” sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was approved by the committee on Wednesday and forwarded to the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Probably to no one’s surprise, all 22 Republicans on the committee supported it and all 17 Democrats opposed it. And there is a very good reason the two parties voted as they did.

The bone of contention here is genetic testing of employees by their employer. This is currently forbidden by a law known as GINA, The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (Pub.L. 110–233, 122 Stat. 881), which noted that genetic advances “give rise to the potential misuse of genetic information to discriminate in health insurance and employment.”

This is how the GOP is spinning it:

What critics fear, and what Kristol is suggesting, is that HR 1313 would allow employers to force employees to undergo genetic testing.

According to Snopes, this is not quite true:

“H.R. 1313 would allow employers to offer substantial health insurance premium rebates to workers who take part in company wellness programs that may include submitting to health risk assessments.'”

However, The American Society of Human Genetics opposes the bill, saying in a statement,

“We urge the Committee not to move forward with consideration of this bill,” said ASHG president Nancy J. Cox, PhD. “As longtime advocates of genetic privacy, we instead encourage the Committee to pursue ways to foster workplace wellness and employee health without infringing upon the civil rights afforded by ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] and GINA.”
 
A key component of ADA and GINA is that they prevent workers and their families from being coerced into sharing sensitive medical or genetic information with their employer. For GINA, genetic information encompasses not only employees’ genetic test results but also their family medical histories. H.R.1313 would effectively repeal these protections by allowing employers to ask employees invasive questions about their and their families’ health, including genetic tests they, their spouses, and their children may have undergone. GINA’s requirement that employees’ genetic information collected through a workplace wellness program only be shared with health care professionals would no longer apply.
 
The bill would also allow employers to impose financial penalties of up to 30 percent of the total cost the employee’s health insurance on employees who choose to keep such information private. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health coverage in 2016 was $18,142. Thus, for such a plan, a wellness program could charge employees an extra $5,443 in annual premiums if they choose not to share their genetic and health information.
 
“If enacted, this bill would force Americans to choose between access to affordable healthcare and keeping their personal genetic and health information private,” said Derek Scholes, PhD, director of science policy at ASHG. “Employers would be able to coerce employees into providing their genetic and health information and that of their families, even their children.”

So while the bill does not exactly force employees to undergo genetic testing, it does sorta force employees to undergo genetic testing by imposing penalties on them if they don’t.

Critics worry that employees would be coerced into undergoing such testing and that the results of that testing would be used to terminate their employment, a result also forbidden by GINA.

Obviously, this bill, if it became law, would affect millions of Americans afflicted with genetic disorders by discriminating against those who do not measure up to some corporate-imposed standard.

Its sponsors can pretend it is a matter of reducing healthcare costs, but really, it’s a means of reducing expenses, not for the patient, but, as Bill Kristol warns, for the corporation, by shifting the cost to workers.

This sort of discrimination by and for corporations is the reality of Republican governance. It was the reality before Donald Trump and it is the reality under Donald Trump, as we have seen from the GOP’s disastrous Trumpcare. It is only a surprise it took Bill Kristol so long to notice.

Photo: foxx.house.gov