Say your employer wants you to get a genetic test. You politely decline because you consider it a gross infringement of privacy. Well, too bad—your monthly health insurance payments just spiked 30%.
This could be the reality under HR 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, a House GOP-sponsored bill that would essentially allow companies with workplace wellness programs to demand your genetic information (or force you to pay a big penalty).
The legislation has now passed a House committee on a straight party line vote, reports STAT News, with all 22 Republicans unified in support against 17 Democratic detractors. The bill is expected to be latched on to a second Obamacare-related legislative effort that will be a followup to the main GOP health care plan now working its way through Congress.
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Currently, employers with ostensibly voluntary workplace wellness programs can force their workers to pay 30% more (and up to 50% more for smokers) toward their company-provided health insurance benefits if they choose not to participate - provisions that were actually passed as a part of Obamacare and then cemented by the Obama administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The wellness programs typically include basic biometric screenings, access to gym memberships, and health care-related questionnaires.
But two older, milestone laws don't allow these wellness programs to include genetic testing: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). These laws bar employers from even asking workers to undergo a genetic test.
Interest groups representing the employer-provided benefits lobby told Congress that those laws aren't in synch with Obamacare's workplace wellness program initiatives and therefore hamper their ability to control costs and improve employee health, according to STAT. But it's unclear how having this sort of information would actually do anything to control spending or improve health outcomes, and how employees' genetic information could be safe-guarded from abuse (such as selling it to targeted ad companies).
In fact, there's minimal evidence that workplace wellness programs even work in the first place. That's why some large employers have been scrutinizing them in recent years and pulling back initiatives that haven't provided tangible results.