House Democrats and a number of privacy advocacy groups came out against a House GOP-sponsored bill that would reportedly make it easier for employers to gain access to genetic information about their employees and their families.
The New York Times reported Friday that the bill– called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act– may also significantly increase the costs if someone chooses not to participate in a company wellness program that requires the genetic information.
Fortune magazine summed up the bill: it “would essentially allow companies with workplace wellness programs to demand your genetic information (or force you to pay a big penalty.)”
The bill was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill reportedly passed its first test in a committee vote that went straight down party line. The bill is still under review by other House committees.
A spokeswoman for the House committee told The Times that “the legislation will reaffirm existing law and provide regulatory clarity so that employers can have the certainty they need to help lower health care costs for their employees.”
There is debate on the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs in general.
“We urge the Committee not to move forward with consideration of this bill,” Nancy J. Cox, PhD, the president of the American Society of Human Genetics, said in a statement. “As longtime advocates of genetic privacy, we instead encourage the Committee to pursue ways to foster workplace wellness and employee health without infringing upon the civil rights afforded by ADA and GINA.”
She said if enacted, the bill would “fundamentally undermine” the Genetic information Nondiscrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.