A new GOP-led health bill would allow employers to order employees to get genetic testing and then have the results handed over to the government — or face thousands of dollars in fines and penalties. While it sounds like something out of a dystopian science fiction flick, it’s true, and it would impact American workers enrolled in “workplace wellness programs.” What’s more, the bill (HR 1313 or the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act) has already passed a House committee.
— Bryan Dawson (@BryanDawsonUSA) March 10, 2017
As Fortune reports, the controversial and eyebrow-raising genetic testing health bill passed through the committee on straight party lines, with all 22 participating members of the GOP voting in support of the bill, while 17 Democrats voted against it. If implemented, the bill that would allow employer-mandated genetic testing would be part of the controversial new healthcare legislated that is being rolled out to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The new health bill would essentially expand employers’ ability to charge their workers more for health insurance benefits. Currently, American employers who participate in the Affordable Care Act and utilize a “voluntary” workplace wellness program can demand that workers who opt out of said wellness program pay as much as 30 percent more for health insurance than their co-workers. Workplace wellness programs typically contain such caveats as employer-provided gym memberships (or gym discounts for employees), health questionnaires, and even biometric screenings of employees.
Under the new health bill, sponsored by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), wellness programs could also legally include mandatory genetic testing of participants. Previously, before the GOP began rolling out its collective ideas for Affordable Care Act replacement, American workers were legally protected from forced genetic testing. Under two older laws, the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees couldn’t even legally ask their employees to participate in genetic testing (whether for healthcare or otherwise).
As CNBC reports, the newly introduced and partisan GOP health bill would completely eliminate the protections of the older bills, essentially leaving American workers forced to choose between undergoing genetic testing (the results of which could be handed over to the government) or having their insurance premiums spike by as much as 30 percent.
— Honey #DemForce (@Honey17011) March 11, 2017
According to Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the proposed new health bill could have devastating effects on the legal protection afforded to the American public.
“What this bill would do is completely take away the protection of existing laws.”
In a nutshell, even if you feel as though handing over your complete genetic information to your employer or a health insurance provider is a gross invasion of privacy, it could cost you thousands of dollars in government-sanctioned insurance fines, penalties, and premiums to refuse to participate as part of an employee wellness program.
"1984" – Republicans vote yes on bill 2 allow employer 2 require genetic testing to get lower insurance rates. HR 1313. All Dems vote no.
— ????Mother Trucker???? (@cjmarley) March 11, 2017
@rusty_staples "the genetic testing bill is expected to be folded into a second ACA-related measure containing a grab-bag of provisions…"
— Walter Thompson (@YourProtagonist) March 11, 2017
What's going on with this GOP genetic testing? This bill is bad prejudicial and smacks of dr mengele crap! No president no! That GOP deadly
— Barbara Berger (@barbberger) March 11, 2017
@Salon HEY! Goin' up my skirt isn't enough? …NOW they wanna dissect my genes? HELL NO!
— atsamee (@atsamee) March 10, 2017
Republicans: "There's a 'deep state' in Washington."
Also Republicans: "A bill that lets companies require genetic testing? Cool!"
— Beth Elderkin (@BethElderkin) March 10, 2017
The usefulness of these so-called “voluntary” employee wellness programs have been called into question by some employers and even some health providers. Many companies, even large employers, have opted out of implementing them for their employees, even though the health plans allow said employers to charge non-compliant workers 30 percent more for health insurance and smokers up to 50 percent more.
According to Representative Foxx, employers already possess the right to force their workers to submit to genetic testing under the Affordable Care Act. However, the American Society of Human Genetics and others opposed to the controversial new health bill argue against that assertion, claiming that the protections of GINA and the ADA specifically prohibit employers from crossing that line in the sand at this time. If this new GOP-supported health bill becomes part of the new Trumpcare initiative, that line in the sand would become a thing of the past for millions of Americans.
— Fonner Woods (@authorfonner) March 11, 2017
A spokesperson for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (headed by genetic testing health bill sponsor Foxx) addressed media queries about the invasive new health bill on Friday. According to the spokesperson, media reports regarding genetic testing are “false information.”
“Those who are opposed to the bill are spreading false information in a desperate attempt to deny employees the choice to participate in a voluntary program that can reduce health insurance costs and encourage healthy lifestyle choices. We believe families should be empowered with that choice, and so did the Obama administration. It is another sad reminder of just how extreme the Democrat party and their liberal allies are becoming.”
What do you think about this new health bill being incorporated into the GOP’s Affordable Care Act replacement plan? Do you think it is appropriate for employers to force (or coerce by way of threatening financial penalties) their employees to submit to genetic testing as laid out in the new health bill?
[Featured Image by Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock]