By Lena H. Sun
March 11, 2017
Employers could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs if a bill approved by a U.S. House committee this week becomes law.
In general, employers don't have that power under existing federal laws, which protect genetic privacy and nondiscrimination. But a bill passed Wednesday by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce would allow employers to get around those obstacles if the information is collected as part of a workplace wellness program.
Such programs — which offer workers a variety of carrots and sticks to monitor and improve their health, such as lowering cholesterol — have become increasingly popular with companies. Some offer discounts on health insurance to employees who complete health-risk assessments. Others might charge people more for smoking. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are allowed to discount health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent — and in some cases 50 percent — for employees who voluntarily participate in a wellness program.
the House legislation would allow employers to impose penalties of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the employee's health insurance on those who choose to keep such information private.
The average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health coverage in 2016 was $18,142, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Under the plan proposed in the bill, a wellness program could charge employees an extra $5,443 in annual premiums if they choose not to share their genetic and health information.