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House Bill Lets Employers Fine Employees Who Decline Genetic Testing

14 March 2017, 1:09 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
A bill that has received approval by the U.S. House committee could compel employees to share genetic data as part of the workplace wellness program. In the event the employee declines, they may face penalty if this bill is enacted.  ( William Thomas Cane | Getty Images )

The next time your employer asks you for genetic testing - as part of a wellness program for the workplace - and you decline, be warned that the lack of participation could result in you being penalized.

This scenario may well be true if a new bill approved by the U.S. House committee comes into effect and becomes a law. The bill passed on Wednesday, March 8, by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce may enable an employer to collect the genetic data as part of the wellness program.

Genetic testing is defined as the study of one's DNA which helps in identifying the inherited differences or vulnerability to particular ailment or abnormalities.

If the bill by the U.S. House committee - which is currently under review - gets enacted, then under the Preserving Employee Wellness Program, workers who turn down genetic testing have to pay a hefty fine.

What Happens If The Bill Is Enacted?

If the bill gets enacted, then it means that employees who do not submit the genetic test required by their employers as part of the voluntary wellness program, may see an impact on their health insurance.

Wellness programs aid workers in improving the condition of their health, especially in controlling one's cholesterol levels. This program has become very popular with companies. Individuals who complete the assessment of their physical condition get discount on health insurance. Employers have the ability to discount nearly 30 percent, while in few cases up to 50 percent under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With the enactments of the bill, employers would have the right to impose fine of about 30 percent on a worker's health insurance if he or she wants to keep information private.

"It's a terrible Hobson's choice between affordable health insurance and protecting one's genetic privacy," said Derek Scholes of the American Society of Human Genetics.

In 2016, the yearly premium an employer needed to shell out for a sponsored family health insurance plan was $18,142 per the data from Kaiser Family Foundation. The plan proposed in the new bill would lead to a wellness program charging employees an additional $5,443 in yearly premiums in the even he or she does not disclose their health and genetic data.

Opposition To The Bill

Even though the bill is waiting evaluation of other House committees, it still needs to get the green signal from the Senate.

It is facing condemnation from a wide range of groups, including House Democrats. In a letter to the committee, close to 70 establishments which represent medical, consumers and health advocacy groups have asserted that if this bill is enacted, then it would weaken the fundamental requirements of privacy which the of the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act uphold.

Those in the business sector who approved the bill have argued that following the policies in the federal laws makes it quite difficult to propose wellness facilities. The American Benefit Council - which represents a majority of employers - said that the given rules does not let the wellness programs function properly. These programs are beneficial for the worker's health, help in increasing the productivity of the company and also reduce the cost of health care.

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