The Republican White House is passing a bill through the Congress which is likely to be passed. This bill doesn’t get the attention it deserves due to the debate in the Congress about the proposal to repeal and replace Affordable Care Act. The new bill named as HR 1313 allows companies to ask the employees to undergo genetic testing. Failing to go through the test would result in the employees paying thousands of dollars. The risk here is that the employers would have complete genetic information and health information of their employees, which is supposed to be private.
In 2008, the Obama administration passed genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law called as GINA. The new bill proposed by the House of Republicans gets past this GINA act as it claims that the law doesn’t apply when the genetic tests are included in the workplace wellness program organized by the companies.
The House Committee has approved HR 1313 with support from 22 Republicans even though the 17 Democrats opposed the bill. Jennifer Mathis from a civil rights group commented that the new policy will take away all the protection offered by the existing laws including GINA. Apart from GINA, the bill also makes protection offered by 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act invalid.
Employers exploited the workplace wellness program during the Obama administration. The Affordable Care Act introduced voluntary programs in the workplace wellness programs and it allowed the employers to charge additional 30% to 50% for employees who refused to participate in the voluntary tests. The voluntary tests include cholesterol screenings, invasive personal health questionnaires, and other screenings. The Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also issued that the wellness programs are voluntary and the employees should pay additional thousands of dollars as premium if they don’t want to participate in the voluntary programs.
The new bill includes genetic tests as voluntary tests for the wellness programs. This effectively means that employers could easily gain access to genetic information and stop caring about the disabilities law. In the testimony, the employers said that the new law is needed to provide improved health programs.
Researches indicate that the genetic information required by the employees play no part in improving employees’ health. This information also doesn’t save medical cost for the workers. The 2008 law prohibits employees from asking for genetic tests and such information would not be provided in a manner that can be used to identify the employees. However, the new law makes genetic tests voluntary and in small companies, it is much easier to map employees with their genetic information even though workers’ name is not included in the report.
Using the new bill, the employers can fiddle with the paychecks of workers who don’t want voluntary tests with the wellness program even though the company doesn’t provide health insurance. The sensitive nature of the genetic test reports won’t be protected vigorously as the employers hire outsiders to manage these reports.