Republicans want to let employers demand your genetic test results

In their own words, Republicans love nothing more than small government and liberty, but there has always been a strong association between Republican lawmakers’ passion for liberty and discrimination toward the marginalized, who Republicans would like to see legally.

And as of this week, Republican lawmakers are extending their passion for small government to workplaces across the country, via a bill which would give employers the liberty of forcing employees to undergo genetic testing, or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars. The bill would additionally allow employers see that genetic and other health information.

On Wednesday, HR 1313 was approved by all 22 Republicans of a House committee, and opposed by all 17 Democrats of the same committee.

According to Nancy Cox, president of the American Society of Human Genetics in a letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, HR 1313 “would allow employers to ask employees invasive questions about … genetic tests they and their families have undergone,” and “to impose stiff financial penalties on employees who choose to keep such information private, thus empowering employers to coerce their employees” into providing their genetic information.

This is despite how, as PBS notes, “the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA” prohibit mandated genetic testing and granting employers access to employees’ confidential health information.

Current law prohibits any genetic information from being provided to the employer, unless in a “de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile,” according to PBS. These efforts are meant to discourage discrimination and prevent employees from being denied healthcare.

However, HR 1313 attempts to circumvent the GINA and other privacy and nondiscrimination laws by asserting that they “do not apply” if genetic tests are part of “workplace wellness programs.” Additionally, as long as an employer’s demands for genetic tests and other information are framed as voluntary, despite the threat of high fines, they can ask for anything from employees.

Genetic privacy and disabilities laws are consistently met with hostility from employers and Republicans, who claim that they stint the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs requiring employers to have unfettered access to genetic and medical records. This is despite how such programs, primarily supported by employers as they allow them to shift costs of healthcare to workers, have little to no effect on employee health.

Of course, it is worth noting that under the Affordable Care Act, employees could similarly be charged high fines for not complying with “voluntary” programs, such as cholesterol screenings, health questionnaires, and plans regarding pregnancy, weight loss, and smoking. But with HR 1313 slated to receive more attention in the week to come as Republicans attempt to force it into the law, it’s worth noting the hypocrisy of a party that consistently touts its respect for privacy, liberty, and small government, attempting to implement laws that would grant employers sweeping access to their employees’ most private information.

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