Stefanik backs major attack on workers’ rights

To the editor:

Should your employer know if you have a genetic predisposition to cancer or other disease? Rep. Elise Stefanik thinks so.

She co-sponsored H.R. 1313, the innocently titled “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act,” which would give employers access to your genetic test results and allow insurers to jack up your insurance rates if you didn’t undergo such testing. Her committee, Education and the Workforce, approved the bill on March 8, with all Republicans voting for it and all Democrats voting against.

The Affordable Care Act allows employers and insurance companies to substantially reduce health insurance premiums for workers enrolled in wellness programs, such as weight-loss and smoking cessation, and in health screening programs. However, under the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), employers can’t force employees to submit to genetic testing or to use the results of genetic tests to discriminate against them. Importantly, employers cannot use genetic test results to make employment decisions, and insurance companies cannot use them to deny coverage or charge higher premiums. So even if your employer knows that you tested positive for, say, the BRCA gene mutation that often leads to breast cancer, he or she cannot use that information in deciding whether to promote you to a management position or include you in a layoff.

H.R. 1313 would change all that. The bill says that it is perfectly OK for employers to collect such information as long as they are doing so as part of “a workplace wellness program offered by an employer or in conjunction with an employer-sponsored health plan.” They would be exempt from GINA.

So if you participate in an employee wellness program, your employer could require you to undergo genetic testing, obtain the results and share them with your insurance company. While the results provided by the testing company would not include individuals’ names, in a small company, it would not be difficult to match an employee profile with a specific individual.

Worse, if you refuse to take part in the wellness program and submit to health risk assessments, including genetic screening, you could be hit with a hefty financial penalty. And even though you are being discriminated against, the bill weakens the ability of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to intervene.

In promoting this insidious assault on workers’ rights, whose interests is Elise Stefanik representing? Yours? Or those of the insurance companies and PACs who contributed to her campaign?

Henrietta Jordan

Keene Valley