House bill targeting employees' genetics, medical history progre - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

House bill targeting employees' genetics, medical history progresses

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, sponsored H.R. 1313, called  the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. (Source: Official photo) Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, sponsored H.R. 1313, called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. (Source: Official photo)

(RNN) - Amid the flurry of activity about Obamacare, some have expressed dismay about a proposal by the House of Representatives.

The bill - H.R. 1313, called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act - would allow employers to seek the genetic and family health information of their employees and would allow employers to penalize employees who keep their information private, according to Stat, a health-oriented news site produced by Boston Globe Media.

The measure was approved by the Education and Workforce Committee with a 22-17 vote as a part of two other proposals.

It was proposed by the chairman of the committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC.

“We are delivering on our promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with free-market, patient-centered reforms, and today we took another important step in that process,” Foxx said. “These reforms will help expand affordable coverage for working families, lower health care costs for small businesses and their employees, and promote a healthy workforce. All of these proposals reflect the principle that individuals should have greater control over their health care and the freedom to do what’s best for their families.”

Democrats on the committee voted against the legislation, citing the eroding of privacy protections, the increase in premiums for employees who refuse to participate and concerns that measure opens up employees to discrimination based on their family and genetic profile.

It "exempts all wellness plans offered through employer-sponsored health plans from the ADA, thereby giving unscrupulous employers permission to discriminate or retaliate against employees with disabilities," the Education and Workforce Committee Democrats said.

Clyde Terry, chair of the National Council on Disability said in a letter to the committee that the measure "opens the door to discrimination by employers who are able to engage in the kind of medical examination and inquiry that would otherwise be prohibited" by the ADA "so long as it is conducted as part of an employee wellness program." 

"H.R. 1313 goes against existing privacy and civil rights protections, and it would have the effect of coercing employees to turn over ADA or GINA information – including their family’s genetic information – as part of a wellness program," Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, said. 

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-CT, offered an amendment that would protect the personal health information of children. Republicans voted against the amendment.

He expressed dismay that third-party vendors would be collecting this sensitive information. "It's not even the employers that's collecting the data, and they're not covered by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). ... These organizations are free to do with the information whatever they like, and it's done, in many instances, even without the knowledge of the clients, the employers,  who are hiring them in good faith."

"They sometimes sell the health information they collect from employees," Stet said. "As a result, employees get unexpected pitches for everything from weight-loss programs to running shoes, thanks to countless strangers poring over their health and genetic information."

The House Education and Workforce Committee said the bill "would provide employers the legal certainty they need to offer employee wellness plans, helping to promote a healthy workforce and lower health care costs," the committee said in a statement.

Employers say they need the "legal certainty" because ADA and GINA are “not aligned in a consistent manner” with laws about workplace wellness programs, as an employer group testified before Congress last week, stated Stet.

The American Society of Human Genetics, a professional membership organization for human genetics specialists, opposes the legislation, saying it would coerce employees into sharing medical and family history with their employers, undermining the privacy guarantees put forward in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The group also said that the measure would allow employers to penalize employees up to 30 percent of the total cost of their healthcare. So for a plan that costs $18,142, employees could be charged an extra $5,443 per year if they opt not to share the information.

“As longtime advocates of genetic privacy, we instead encourage the Committee to pursue ways to foster workplace wellness and employee health without infringing upon the civil rights afforded by ADA and GINA,” said Nancy J. Cox, president of the American Society of Human Genetics.

The bill is being considered by the committees on Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means. It is expected to be folded into a larger potpourri healthcare measure, Stet said.

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