With everyone embroiled in the Obamacare repeal-and-replace, it was likely that someone would try to slip a piece of controversial legislation under our noses. In the House of Representatives, Republicans are trying to move a bill that would allow your boss to genetically test you. Since this bill requires no federal spending, it has been separate from the whole American Care Act package. The fact that it needs no funding, and is thus separate from the ACA bill, means HR 1313 is easier to pass, requiring only a simple majority in both the House and Senate…which the GOP possesses.
Oh, and you could face penalties at work if you refuse to participate in the testing, which would be part of “workplace wellness” programs. Currently, genetic testing by employers is banned by a 2008 law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)…but HR 1313 is creating a loophole by making genetic testing “voluntary.” Employers are allowed to reduce health insurance contributions for employees who participate in workplace wellness programs, meaning that non-participants can be charged comparatively more.
Currently, under Obamacare, employers are allowed to charge employees 30-50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in workplace wellness programs. The argument is that participants in such programs help save employers, insurance companies, and the general public lots of money on health care. Up until HR 1313, however, these wellness programs were focused on things like diet and exercise, not checking your gene sequences for predispositions to cancers and other genetically-linked diseases and disorders.
Once bosses have access to your genetic results, there’s no telling what they could do. Although there would probably be rules in place preventing employers from firing workers over their genetic code, large employers would be savvy enough to act subtly to remove “genetic undesirables” from the payroll. If a genetic test revealed a worker to be predisposed to cancer, for example, the employer might begin giving that worker less desirable assignments and making quarterly performance reviews a bit harsher.
Over time, the combination of less desirable work assignments and increasingly contentious performance reviews would convince many “genetic undesirables” to voluntarily seek jobs with other employers. Obviously, the employer would take great pains to ensure that lawyers would struggle mightily to prove genetic discrimination. Unlike the future society depicted in the famous 1997 sci-fi blockbuster Gattaca, where genetic discrimination is commonplace and blatant, HR 1313 would likely result in big corporations discriminating with a velvet glove rather than an iron fist.The result, however, is still catastrophic to the concept of equal rights: Anyone with genetic predispositions to diseases or conditions could find themselves pushed out of jobs, even jobs for which their conditions would be no imposition. Employers simply would not want to deal with any potential loss of productivity, and thus seek to replace anyone with any undesirable sections of genetic code.
A “genetic underclass” would result over decades, with thousands (or millions) of Americans being unable to maintain work with large employers who offer benefits… and demand DNA testing. If your resume shows that you previously worked for a large employer, especially one known to test employees’ DNA as part of its workplace wellness initiatives, potential bosses will assume that you might have left because your previous employer tried to “ease you out” after a bad DNA result. Why take the risk of hiring someone who might have a “bad code”?
Eventually, many large employers could effectively begin banning new hires who may have previously had their DNA tested and found wanting.
At worst, corporations could begin colluding over “bad code” employees, promising to report employees who are considered “genetic liabilities” to each other to minimize the likelihood of anyone else landing a worker who may develop cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder. Since genetic conditions tend to run in families, entire families will be harmed over the long term by this new genetic discrimination.
Not only will parents be “eased out” of good jobs after their codes are found undesirable, but their children will frequently be doomed to suffer the same fate. It would also not be difficult for large corporations to search for the DNA results of new applicants’ parents, effectively allowing them to bypass the requirement of having to hire applicants to learn about their genetic codes. Once a parent is known to have bad code, his or her offspring will also be discriminated against.
Over generations, discrimination would divide society. Those with good jobs with large employers would come to be seen as having good genes, while those without such jobs would be seen as potentially having bad genes. Those from “good gene” families would seek to partner only with those coming from other good gene families. Those from “bad gene” families would only be able to partner with others in the same boat.
By opening the door to this potential future, Republicans in the House should be ashamed. They have either not considered the ramifications of this bill, and the slippery slope it unleashes, or they find such a state acceptable. Ironically, however, many of those families who will become tarnished with the “bad gene” reputation are devout Republicans. Hidden liabilities in one’s DNA are not limited to certain spots on the socio-political spectrum: How many Republican voters who will champion this bill secretly have costly medical conditions embedded in their genetic codes?
Ten years from now, how many high-earning conservatives will be “eased out” by Fortune 500 corporations?