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Penalties for Health and Genetic Privacy at Work

All is not well in certain parts of the wellness industry. Employers are shying away from intrusive and coercive wellness programs that employees resent. So the wellness industry is looking for a bigger stick. They’re quietly pushing a bill that would make it easier to levy big penalties on employees who don’t want their employers doing health and genetic testing on them at work.

The Legislation

HR 1313, dubbed the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, is a stand-alone measure. It’s not linked up directly to the big fight over replacing the ACA. It’s moving along on its own. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved it this week.

The bill would permit bigger penalties for people who want to keep the genetic and health tests private from their employers. It would weaken the ability of the EEOC to bring action against employers who use information from wellness programs to discriminate against people with chronic diseases.

Opposition from Health and Privacy Advocates

Immediate opposition surfaced from 70 health advocacy organizations. All of the major obesity organizations are opposed: ASMBS, OAC, OMA, TOS. Advocates for the health of people with eating disorders are especially distressed. But the opposition is much broader. It includes AARP, American Diabetes, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can find a letter of opposition and a list of advocates standing up for health privacy here.

The fact is that many big employers are backing away from wellness programs that are intrusive or coercive because they risk alienating employees. The 2016 SHRM survey wellness initiatives found a 16% drop in employers using health premiums to incent or coerce employees in their wellness programs. Instead, more employers are focusing on engaging employees for truly voluntary participation. They are focusing on total wellness.

So who favors this bill? Conservative CEOs in the Business Roundtable do. These schemes provide clever ways to identify and shift costs to people with genetic risks for chronic diseases. Wellness vendors sell them to employers who want to offload health costs onto employees. These shady programs provide a wellness blanket to make it all look beneficent. After all, those people could avoid penalties if they would just stop being sickly.

Rationalization is a powerful, dark talent of humans.

Click here here for more from the Washington Post and here for more from New York magazine.

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March 12, 2017

One Response to “Penalties for Health and Genetic Privacy at Work”

  1. March 12, 2017 at 8:58 am, Al Lewis said:

    Thanks for shining a light on this. One big asterisk: this is the first time I’ve ever defended the wellness industry but you cant blame them for this one.

    Just because an idea is stupid doesn’t mean it originated with them. This is from the Business Roundtable, which owns the GOP and had introduced a similar bill in the last session. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-lewis/business-roundtable-score_b_9969430.html