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GOP Bill Would Allow Employers To Genetically Test You

  • Calvin Wolf
  • Mar 15, 2017 11:20AM

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.