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Bill backed by Rep. Walberg would let companies collect workers' genetic profiles

Mar 15, 2017

How would you feel if your boss demanded you undergo genetic testing and hand over the results? And if you refuse, you could wind up paying a penalty of up to 30% of your health insurance's total cost?

A bill to do just that cleared a House Congressional committee last week. 

It's called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. It was approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last Wednesday in a vote that ran along party lines. All 22 Republicans, including Michigan Representative Tim Walberg, R-7, supported the measure while all 17 Democrats opposed it. 

(Michigan Radio reached out to to Rep. Walberg's office for this story. He did not respond to our requests for an interview.)

Lizabeth Barclay is a professor of management at Oakland University who's studied genetic testing and workplace discrimination for more than a decade. She joined Stateside to explain what this bill might allow an employer to do with the results of a genetic test.

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act could require employees to undergo genetic testing and hand over those results to their employer.
Credit Wikipedia.com

"It's possible that there could be additional costs for insurance," Barclay said. "With a lot of the current wellness programs, they're tied to health insurance plans and if you don't undergo cholesterol and blood pressure testing, then you pay a higher medical premium. So, it's possible that if employees don't do this, they will be paying higher charges." 

Barclay said some employers may be pushing for this bill in an effort to help control healthcare costs. But the trouble with that, Barclay said, is that it leaves many more questions unanswered.

Who has access to this genetic information? How will that information be interpreted, and by whom? Will your spouse or kids have to be tested too? Does this actually help make employees healthier?

Listen to the full interview to dive deeper into the ethical and logistical issues surrounding this bill.

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