Why Your Employer Could Soon Ask to Review Your DNA

If a recently proposed law is passed by Congress, your employer may be able to hit you with a substantial financial penalty if you refuse to take a genetic test.

Under current law, as stated in the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), insurers cannot discriminate against individuals based on their genetic information and employers cannot withhold benefits from employees based on this information. They cannot even request for individuals to take genetic tests, except in limited voluntary cases in which requirements are made and the individual's cost of insurance will not be affected. 

However, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (PEWPA) would provide a loophole for those who submit health information to their employer via ostensibly voluntary wellness programs meant to improve or monitor employee health. The legislation would allow a 30 percent penalty for those who choose to take part in the wellness program, but do not subject themselves to genetic tests that could inform the how insurers calculate the costs of their insurance. 

According to rules issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employees are currently incentivized to participate in these voluntary wellness programs, as employers can reduce the cost of employees’ health insurance by 30 percent if they do. Thus, employees already face losing a 30 percent discount in health insurance if they refuse to take part in the voluntary programs. If the proposed law is passed, these wellness programs could now include genetic tests.

Despite being marketed as promoting employee health, some evaluations of wellness programs have shown that they neither provide return on investment through lessening healthcare costs or improve employee health. Instead, opponents have criticized them as a way of using the law to shift more of the financial costs of healthcare insurance from employers to employees.

A letter signed by more than 70 organizations opposed to the law based on GINA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that the law is financially coercive and “would allow penalties up to a maximum averaging many thousands of dollars per year if employees decline to disclose information from genetic tests that they, their spouses, their children or their other family members have had, or if they do not reveal their families’ medical histories.”