Now, it is important to note that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) bars employers—and insurers, alike—from requesting (or, honestly, demanding) that employment candidates take a genetic test. Also, the program prohibits employees from making any employment decisions based on genetic information.
So how can this new bill become a law? Well, there is a clause in the wording of the new bill which says that these tests can be requested as part of a workplace wellness program. Known as the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act, House bill HR 1313 will enable employers to, essentially, get around the restrictions. The bill says that these workplace wellness programs would, basically, not have to follow GINA protections.
And this not only includes the genetic restrictions of the GINA law but also the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This means, then, that employers can penalize employees who do not take part in these wellness programs, even though the programs are “voluntary.”
Of course, the American Society for Human Genetics dramatically opposed this bill. In a statement, agency president Nancy Cox says, “While ASHG applauds efforts to improve employee wellness, employee protections against genetic discrimination established by GINA must not be sacrificed to achieve this.” Cox goes on to say, “Americans must be able to continue to volunteer for research and benefit from genetics-based clinical advances without fear of workplace discrimination based on its findings.”
How does this effect the average American?
Well, under current regulations, employers with “voluntary” workplace wellness programs can already force workers to pay upwards of 50 percent more for their company-provided health insurance benefits if they choose not to participate in the genetic provisions.
ASHG director of science policy, Derek Scholes, PhD advises, “If enacted, this bill would force Americans to choose between access to affordable healthcare and keeping their personal genetic and health information private. Employers would be able to coerce employees into providing their genetic and health information and that of their families, even their children.”