TAR HEEL VIEW: Rep. Virginia Foxx’s genetics bill a wrongheaded intrusion of privacy


U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a strong conservative from North Carolina, has introduced a bill that’s anything but conservative. It goes against the conservative push for small government, instead allowing government into one of the most private segments of our lives: our genetics. We hope House members will shoot down this wrongheaded measure.

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, HR 1313, would allow employers to impose big financial penalties on employees who decline to provide information on their genetics through workplace wellness programs. “Employers, in general, don’t have that power under existing federal laws that protect genetic privacy and nondiscrimination. But a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee would allow employers to get around that if the information is collected as part of workplace wellness programs,” The Washington Post reported last week.

Bill supporters say it gives employers “the legal certainty” to promote good health and lower health-care costs. They say that, as it is now, federal regulations make it difficult to offer these programs.

This bill, which would be big government run amok, is not the solution. It would allow employers to reward those who share their genetic info with deep cuts to their health-insurance costs, leaving those who don’t submit paying substantially more.

So employees would feel pressured to provide their existing genetic information, and possibly submit to genetic testing, or pay the price. That is neither right nor fair. Opponents, including writers to our letters page, are rightly raising heck over this bill that one House committee has already approved.

“In a letter sent to the committee earlier this week, nearly 70 organizations, representing consumer, health and medical advocacy groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP, March of Dimes, and the National Women’s Law Center, said the legislation, if enacted, would undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA,” the Post reported. “Congress passed GINA to prohibit discrimination by health insurers and employers based on the information that people carry in their genes. There is an exception that allows for employees to provide that information as part of voluntary wellness programs. But the law states that employee participation must be entirely voluntary, with no incentives to provide it, or penalties for not providing it.”

Congress must kill this wrongheaded bill now.

The Winston-Salem Journal

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