Excerpt From: Winston-Salem Journal.
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 this 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 — which offer workers a variety of carrots and sticks to monitor and improve their health, such as lowering cholesterol — have become increasingly popular among companies. Some offer discounts on health insurance to employees who complete health-risk assessments. Others might charge people 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’s already received 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, or GINA.
Congress passed GINA to prohibit discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. There is an exception that allows for employees to provide that information as part of voluntary wellness programs. But the law states that employee participation must be entirely voluntary, with no incentives to provide it, or penalties for not providing it.