Judy Wolfe

While attention was focused on the American’s Health Care Act, on March 8th, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved a bill introduced by Virginia Foxx (NC, District 5),  H.R. 1313 – Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. This bill would provide significant financial incentives for employees to share genetic testing with their employers under the guise of workplace wellness programs.

As a Special Education Teacher, I oppose this bill because it removes the prohibition against the collection of genetic information from employees under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The proposed bill states that protections such as GINA will not apply to genetic testing when it is conducted under a wellness program, because the testing would be “voluntary.” In return for this information, employers may provide up to a 50% reduction in insurance premiums, or in reverse – employees who want to keep genetic information private, will pay 50% more. My concern is particularly on why employers would want my genetic information. Many of the most expensive conditions are genetic, and if genetic markers of diseases are discovered, it is not unimaginable for companies to covertly figure out workers who might be expensive and force them out, or obtain information in regards to hiring.

While employers will still need to store sensitive personal information and notify the employee if there is a breach, notification of theft does not make me feel safe. According to a number of articles I have read, the companies currently collecting data are unregulated and have extremely lax privacy policies. How long will the information be kept?  What happens to data when the company is sold or goes out of business?

The basis for this loophole comes from 2009, when Safeway CEO Steven Burd wrote an op-ed in the The Wall Street Journal on how he was holding health care costs flat by instituting “voluntary” wellness programs; if the employee scored well, premiums were reduced up to 50%. The “Safeway Amendment” allowed employers to have a “voluntary” wellness test become part of the ACA and it is part of my own health care now, where I receive a deduction for sharing information. In fact, the Safeway data was a lie. The Washington Post reported in January 2010 that the drop in costs actually happened in 2006 as a result of raising the deductibles and having employees pay more for healthcare and not the wellness test which was put in place in 2009. Furthermore, the coercion by employers to institute wellness tests has not produced a significant drop in health-care costs. The RAND Corporation examined wellness programs and did not find a statistically significant drop in healthcare costs as a result of the implementation of wellness plans (Slate’s L.V. Anderson). The plans simply provided cost shifting between people who opted in and out.

We cannot legislate eugenics in the United States of America, especially when the foundation for the legislation is not supported by facts.