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Bill Allowing Voluntary Genetic Testing of Employees Attracts Controversy

by Countable | 3.20.17

A controversial bill that’s making its way through three congressional committees is already generating tons of chatter across the internet for letting employers ask workers to take genetic tests as part of employee wellness plans.

Why would employers care about their employees’ DNA? Well according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 45 percent of private sector businesses provide their employees with health insurance. In order to bring down costs, they want a healthier workforce, which voluntary employee wellness plans are intended to help achieve. By choosing to participate in these wellness plans, employees can receive significant assistance — between 30 and 50 percent — in paying their health insurance premiums. The bill, known as the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, seeks to let employers ask employees to take genetic tests as a part of those programs.

House Education & Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sponsored the bill, along with Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Paul Mitchell (R-MI). They argue that they’re pursuing consistency in regulations that affect employee wellness programs in order to lower costs and move toward more "patient-centered care." They are particularly concerned about rules imposed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) that they say reduce consumer choice by making compliance with regulations too complicated. A fact sheet published on the committee website states that:

"the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken steps to undermine the use of employee wellness programs by pursuing costly litigation against employers and publishing restrictive new rules. The commission’s partisan actions are contrary to the bipartisan will of Congress, defied the responsible policies of three federal agencies, and created significant regulatory confusion and legal uncertainty for employers… Preserving wellness programs and ensuring employers have the legal certainty they need to help lower health care costs for workers must be part of the process of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered solutions."

In the committee’s markup of the bill, its top Democrat, Bobby Scott (VA), raised concerns around the potential for discrimination against employees based on the data being collected:

"[This bill] opens the door for unscrupulous employers to misuse the information provided to them through the workplace wellness programs, [and] exposes employees to illegal discrimination"

Watch more of his testimony here:

Other Democrats attempted to pass amendments that would’ve prevented third party companies, like genetic testing labs, from selling private citizen information for profit. All such amendments were struck down by Republicans. Watch Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) argue for an amendment to protect citizen privacy here:

You can read more about this bill and tell your reps how you’d like them to vote by following the link below:

— Asha Sanaker and Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: James Tourtellotte, photo editor of CBP Today / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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  • Marjorie
    03/15/2017
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    Giving employers access to any personal health information from their employees' medical records is a blatant violation of medical confidentiality laws. First of all, no person should be required to submit to genetic testing for illnesses or propensity for illness. Secondly, many people would prefer not to have such information, particularly when the potential illness is devastating and untreatable, e.g. Huntington's disease. One's genetic code is the ultimate in private, privileged information. No one has a right to it but the person in whom that DNA resides.

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  • Lienka
    03/15/2017
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    The potential for abuse and the clear violation of privacy outweigh any potential savings. This proposal screams bad faith all around. Please oppose it.

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  • Dara
    03/15/2017
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    No one should have to submit to gene testing for a job. Allowing this practice would just open doors to more workplace discrimination.

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  • Sheilab133
    03/15/2017
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    Big brother keeps getting bigger. I strongly oppose this legislation because it opens the door to all kinds of abuse, and violates a person's privacy.

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  • Anita
    03/15/2017
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    So let me get this straight. An employer can request a voluntary DNA sample in the name of wellness while at the same time weakening privacy under HIPAA. While I appreciate that there are potential benefits for cost savings, I can also see how a sleazy employer could penalize a young healthy person living a healthy lifestyle whose genetic profile shows risk of chronic disease, and having little recourse due to weaker patient protection. I am very angry that this is even being considered.

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  • Tellya
    03/15/2017
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    This is not okay. It's also a violation of my medical privacy. In no way should our employers have any knowledge of our medical history beyond what we volunteer to give. This will be exploited and used to exclude people. It will create a hierarchy and cause further discrimination and division. If we are "free" as we like to believe then we shouldn't have to give out our medical information unless we want to. This should be protected.

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  • Mike
    03/16/2017
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    Keep your hands out of my genes! Talk about government over reach!

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  • Marianne
    03/15/2017
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    This is like something from the Handmaiden's Tale. What a slippery slope we're on.

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  • Stephen
    03/14/2017
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    For anyone who is paying attention, it's abundantly clear that with control of the House and Senate, Republicans intend to stimulate big business without consideration of the consequences to the general public. Even when Democratic senators attempt to mitigate potential disastrous 'unforeseen' consequences, they are shut down. These problems probably will not come home to roost for a couple of years or more, but cement it in your memory now: when employees are discriminated against because they are predisposed to expensive cancer, it was Republicans who cost that person his job, his insurance coverage, and potentially his life. Of course, since lawsuits against corporations are also being neutered, there might be no recourse. What's happening here is systematic and deliberate. IT MUST STOP.

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  • Jynn
    03/16/2017
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    I am strongly opposed to allowing employers to request genetic testing of employees. It is terrifying that this bill is even being considered seriously.

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  • Sarah
    03/16/2017
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    This is nuts, why does my employer need to know this stuff, oh that's right they don't!

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  • Dawn
    03/14/2017
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    Please vote against the "voluntary genetic testing" for employers. Not voluntary if person can be penalized monetarily for refusing. Plus, it just opens the door for discrimination based on genetics, something none of us have control over. Very bad idea. Talk about totalitarian. Vote NO!

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  • Heather
    03/16/2017
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    Please vote no on this. Our DNA is the most personal information that you could have about someone. It is the ultimate invasion of privacy. Even if this is "voluntary," there will be pressure to take the test and some people will feel like they don't have a choice. Then, it will become involuntary. This is wrong and dangerous on every possible level.

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  • Cheryl
    03/15/2017
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    This proposal is atrocious ! Vote NO! It violates our privacy & would definitely allow discrimination ! A bill like this must not be passed !

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  • Anna
    03/15/2017
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    This bill would provide employers yet another way to discriminate, and could prove to be the first tumble down the slippery slope of eugenics. Additionally, the already incomplete public health care system may soon be replaced by the Republican's plan to make the ultra rich richer and the poorest Americans even poorer (another issue that Democrats in DC need to fight tooth and nail). Wide spread genetic testing could easily allow private insurance companies to exclude individuals not only with preexisting conditions, but those who have the genetic potential for future conditions.

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  • Danika
    03/15/2017
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    This is absolutely ridiculous and feels like a total invasion of privacy to me. The hiring of an employee should be based on how well they can perform a job, not based on their genetic history. I have faith in my reps to vote against this, but I'm pleading with the others to strengthen their spines and stand up against this clear act of discrimination.

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  • June
    03/15/2017
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    It wasn't bad enough that Congress wants to give employers access to my jeans (birth control) but now they want to get in my genes? I have had enough! (Michigan)

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  • Debbie
    03/15/2017
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    This is a huge personal invasion of privacy, a precedent that no one should start. This has an Orwellian feel to it and if you let companies order DNA testing, they may use it to fire people!!

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  • rachelbowski
    03/14/2017
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    Why are corporations being given more rights than the American people that work for them? Please fight for the people. Isn't it illegal to discriminate because of disabilities or health when hiring? Wouldn't this bill go against those anti-discrimination laws? If this is about insurance, I don't mind paying so that a chronically ill child can get better; it's called being a decent human being.

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  • Andre
    03/14/2017
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    This is madness. It is Orwellian. It is Gattaca. Please do not allow this to gain any further forward motion. The whole reason that we have things such as the ADA, EEOC, OSHA is because too many employers have proven they cannot be trusted. And now you want to allow them to gain access to our genetic information. Voluntary or not this will end in abuse. If you refuse they may penalize an employee or refuse to hire. If you take it and you have a genetic likelihood toward cancer they may find a way to fire you, force you out through attrition, or never hire you just to keep their costs down. You will allow businesses to create a listing system of those with genetic traits deemed unwanted and those with superior genetics. What does that sound like to you? Does it sound like a good idea? SAY NO!

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