House Bill Could Help Employers Dodge GINA

HR 1313 could circumvent protections offered by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, enabling employers to incentivize employee sharing of genetic and other medical information.

Mar 13, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

i124NEWS.TVThe Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits US employers and health insurance companies from making decisions based on the results of genetic screenings, with several exceptions. If employees voluntarily submit their genetic information as part of a workplace wellness program, for instance, they are not protected by GINA. But employers must not coerce workers into doing so.

Now, House Republicans have approved HR 1313, a bill that, if enacted, would remove at least one of GINA’s protections: essentially, it would allow employers to pressure workers into submitting their genetic information to the company in exchange for up to 30 percent reductions in health insurance costs. Once employees have submitted their information (voluntarily, as part of a workplace wellness program), few of GINA’s protections would apply.

“What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law told STAT News. GINA and similar legislation “would be pretty much eviscerated,” she added.

See: "Protecting Patients from Genetic Discrimination"

The American Academy of Pediatrics and nearly 70 other organizations have drafted a letter opposing the bill, which has been passed along to the House Ways and Means Committee and has yet to be considered by the Senate. “We strongly oppose any legislation that would allow employers to inquire about employees’ private genetic information or medical information unrelated to their ability to do their jobs, and to impose draconian penalties on employees who choose to keep that information private,” the organizations wrote.

Supporters of the bill argue that GINA and other federal nondiscrimination laws impose so many regulations on workplace wellness programs that it is difficult for employers to implement them. Wellness programs can decrease the costs of health care through gym discounts and other incentives for employees who maintain healthy lifestyles. HR 1313 “is trying to streamline the regulatory scheme,” Kathryn Wilber of the American Benefits Council told The New York Times.