Hidden beneath all the chatter regarding the new Trumpcare plan rolled out by Republicans this week, a GOP-led House committee forwarded H.R. 1313, a bill that they claim will lower health care costs. But the real cost will be the privacy of employees’ genetic testing results.
Americans sometimes undergo genetic testing to assess health risks for various cancers or other medical issues. But the new bill may penalize those who don’t share the results of these sensitive tests with employer Wellness programs.
Wellness programs can often reduce the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance. Employees willing to undergo health screenings or self-assessment questionnaires are often given discounts on their health insurance because they are in good health or maintain healthy lifestyle habits.
But H.R. 1313 would permit employers to require genetic testing as part of their Wellness programs. Currently, the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), protects privacy and prohibits employers from demanding genetic testing or demanding the results of such private health information. But the new bill states that GINA and the American Disabilities Act (ADA) will not apply to the results of genetic testing for workplace Wellness programs according to The National Law Review.
Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at civil rights group Bazelon Center for Mental Heal Law told medical science news publication Stat News: “What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws.”
H.R. 1313 passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans on the committee voting aye, and all 17 Democrats opposing. It is likely to be bundled with upcoming votes for #Trumpcare efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
According to PBS News Hour, the ACA allowed employers to charge their employees more for health insurance if they declined to join the accompanying Wellness programs. The programs are voluntary, and usually include a check-up, cholesterol testing, and health questionnaires. They often include smoking cessation and stress reduction aids as well. Although voluntary by law, employees not participating in the programs are often charged thousands more for their employer-sponsored health insurance.
But research shows that the $8 billion wellness industry rarely improves employee health at all. A recent assessment from Health Enhancement Research Organization and Population Health Alliance shows that Wellness programs generally cost more money than they save. But employers sign on hoping that neglect or absent-mindedness on their workers’ part will allow them to shift the high of insurance cost to them.
The 2008 GINA law specifically prohibits group health plans for requiring genetic testing or for using the results for underwriting insurance plans. It also prohibits providing the employer with any of the genetic information that might reveal whose information it is.
Under H.R. 1313, however, GINA wouldn’t apply to workplace Wellness programs, which means that employers would be able to demand that employees undergo genetic testing to participate in the programs. Refusing to do so could result in the employee paying thousands extra every year to participate in the employer-sponsored insurance plans.
It wouldn’t be difficult for small companies to identify the test results by employee, and according to Nancy Cox, president of the American Society of Human Genetics, “would undermine fundamentally the privacy provisions of those laws.”
Cox sent a letter to the House committee the day before it approved the bill, saying:
“It would allow employers to ask employees invasive questions about … genetic tests they and their families have undergone… to impose stiff financial penalties on employees who choose to keep such information private, thus empowering employers to coerce their employees.”
Privacy concerns also include the selling of genetic profiles to vendors. When large companies outsource the management of their Wellness programs, these outside companies are often unregulated and have access to genetic testing results along with identification information of the patients. They frequently sell this information, according to Stat News, which means that employees could be targeted for harassment with pitches for wellness products, including weight loss programs, gym memberships, and other commercial products.
It seems that the Republicans are only interested in science when it can make their big business and health insurance industry sponsors more profit. They have no problem using genetic testing to cut employer costs, even though nearly every single one will tell their constituents that science is a dodgy scheme and inconclusive when it comes to say, climate change or even evolution.
It also brings to light that Republicans in Congress are happy enough with the spotlight on their figurehead, Donald Trump. The more he outrages and shocks moderate Americans with his unconventional and unprofessional behavior, the more of these small, secret bills they can rush through without notice.
Featured image via Agência Brasília – Hemocentro conscientiza doadores sobre fenotipagem sanguínea, CC BY 2.0, Link