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Roll Back of Genetic Protections?

A bill is before the US House of Representatives that would enable employers to require employees to undergo genetic testing — so long as it is a part of a workplace wellness program, as GenomeWeb reports.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits employers, as well as insurers, from requesting or demanding that someone take a genetic test. It also bars employers from making employment decisions based on a person's genes.

But this new bill, HR 1313 or the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, would enable employers to get around those prohibitions. It says that workplace wellness programs wouldn't be subject to the restrictions of GINA and other protections, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Employers would also be able to impose financial penalties on employees who do not take part in wellness programs, though they would still be considered voluntary programs.

In a statement, the American Society for Human Genetics opposes the bill. "While ASHG applauds efforts to improve employee wellness, employee protections against genetic discrimination established by GINA must not be sacrificed to achieve this," Nancy Cox, the ASHG president, says. "Americans must be able to continue to volunteer for research and benefit from genetics-based clinical advances without fear of workplace discrimination based on its findings."

Stat News adds that a House committee approved the bill this week in a party-line vote and that the bill is expected to be folded in with other healthcare legislation.