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Bill Would Let Employers Get All Up in Employees' Genetic Business

Are you busy climbing the corporate ladder? Well, a bill making its way through Congress could allow employers to climb the ladders of your DNA!

A bill passed last Wednesday by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce would allow employers essentially to fine employees enrolled in voluntary wellness programs who refuse to undergo genetic testing. Show us your DNA profile, or you can pay up to 30% more for your company health insurance plan!

Employers can't look at employees' genetic profiles right now thanks to privacy laws, so the party of small government (R) is trying to help them out, apparently. H.R. 1313, which is somewhat ironically called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, is already facing strong opposition by many groups according to an excellent piece in yesterday's Washington Post:

The bill is under review by other House committees and still must be considered by the Senate. But it has already faced strong criticism from a broad array of groups, as well as House Democrats. In a letter sent to the committee earlier this week, nearly 70 organizations— representing consumer, health and medical advocacy groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP, March of Dimes and the National Women's Law Center — said the legislation, if enacted, would undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

Here is the House committee markup meeting on H.R. 1313 as well as a few other healthcare-related bills. A discussion of H.R. 1313 happens around the 2:50 mark.

Employees should have some basic expectation of privacy, and our unique DNA profile is as basic, and as private, as it gets. There's also the sticky issue of interpreting scientific data. What does the data mean, and how would it be applied to future employment risk? In my experience, most mid-level managers do not hold Ph.D.s in genetics and developmental biology, and so they would need to rely on third-party outsiders to interpret the data for them. How would our DNA be collected, analyzed and distributed? And who would make money off our DNA profiles?

Wellness programs, which have traditionally suffered low enrollment because employees don't want employers to have access to their health information, could have a harder time finding new members. The biggest risk, of course, is that we might eventually create a large pool of employees who are no longer employable thanks to their genetic profile. Hard-working Americans deserve better than this bill.


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