When it comes to politics, it seems like just about everything is up in the air right now: There’s talk of basic maternity care coverage possibly landing on the chopping block, a lot of back and forth discussion on the fate of Planned Parenthood, and a new Republican health care plan to contend with. But while everyone’s focused on the future of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a second bill quietly making its way through Congress, and it’s one which could seriously affect anyone covered by a workplace wellness program.
Defined as a “health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes at work” by the CDC, workplace wellness programs can include anything from health education and coaching to financial incentives to healthy food options and on-site fitness programs. They also frequently include — and even require — medical screenings. The bill in question, Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (also dubbed H.R. 1313) would allow companies to subject its employees to genetic testing as part of their health screenings in order to stay enrolled in these voluntary programs. It would also give companies full access to all of the results, reports STAT News. YIKES.
Although taking part in the wellness program itself and all of its consecutive tests would remain completely voluntary, companies are currently allowed to charge employees anywhere from 30-50 percent more in healthcare premiums if they decline to participate in these types of programs under the ACA, meaning for many, forgoing the programs is not a feasible option (at least financially). Reports of other employees being sued for failing to participate in the programs have also surfaced. It’s certainly troubling, considering that as of 2015, 81 percent of companies with 200+ employees had wellness programs, as did 49 percent of smaller workplaces.
The genetic tests in question are currently prohibited under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Info Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) passed in 2008, but H.R. 1313 would allow employers to seek out this type of very personal information using the loophole that workplace wellness programs are exempt from such protections.
“What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, told STAT. While those in support of employer-provided health insurance argue that genetic testing would help businesses control costs and provide better service to employees, critics are worried that companies might start selling the information to third parties.
Nancy Cox, President of the American Society of Human Genetics, addressed the other obvious red flag: The fact that the bill could “empower employers to use financial penalties to coerce their employees into giving up their genetic information.”
Needless to say, people are NOT pleased.
H.R. 1313 was approved by a House committee this past Wednesday after all 22 Republicans voted in support of it (and all 17 Democrats voted against it). The bill has been forwarded to the House Ways and Means Committee and will be added to legislation aimed at overhauling Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
What’s your reaction to H.R. 1313? Tweet us @BritandCo.
(h/t Bustle, photo via Mark Makela/Getty)