Health and Science

Your boss could demand you get genetic testing and hand over the results, if this congressional bill becomes law

DNA Sequencing film strip.
Rafe Swan | Getty Images

Get ready to open up and say "ahhhhhhhhhh."

Workers participating in so-called workplace wellness programs reportedly could be ordered to get genetic testing — and hand over the results — by their employers or face financial penalties, if a bill being pushed by congressional Republican becomes law.

That bill, passed by a House committee Wednesday, could end up as part of the second phase of planned Obamacare-replacement legislation, the STAT health-care news site reported Friday.

"What this bill would do is completely take away the protection of existing laws," Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, told STAT.

The controversy revolves around disputes over the meaning of a 2008 federal law, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, as well as over administrative interpretations of the Affordable Care Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

GINA, opponents of the new bill say, as a rule bars employers from insisting on genetic testing of their workers, except if that testing is offered as part of a wellness program and is voluntary on the part of the worker.

But the new bill, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C if passed into law, would make it clear that employers who offered wellness programs, and require genetic testing as part of them, can legally charge workers who refuse the tests a higher price for health insurance than workers who accept the test.

Wellness programs, whose efficacy has been challenged, are intended to improve employee health by methods including screening for medical conditions and promoting smoking cessation.

The Affordable Care Act allows employers to charge workers at least 30 percent, and up to 50 percent, more for job-based health insurance if employees choose not to participate in a wellness program.

Foxx's office referred a request for comment on the bill to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce when contacted by CNBC. Foxx is chairwoman of that committee.

A committee spokeswoman said, "Those who are opposed to the bill are spreading false information in a desperate attempt to deny employees the choice to participate in a voluntary program that can reduce health insurance costs and encourage healthy lifestyle choices."

"We believe families should be empowered with that choice, and so did the Obama administration. It is another sad reminder of just how extreme the Democrat party and their liberal allies are becoming," the spokeswoman said.

She said the law currently does allow employers to require workers participating in wellness programs to submit to genetic testing. However, opponents of Foxx's bill, including the American Society of Human Genetics, dispute that interpretation.

The spokeswoman Foxx's committee pointed to a fact sheet on the bill, which said it "reaffirms existing law to allow employee wellness programs to be tied to responsible financial incentives."

"H.R. 1313 would bring uniformity to the regulation of wellness programs and clarify that such programs are consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act," that sheet said.

Read the STAT News story here.