Your Genes vs Your Job

Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Every once in a while, the question of genetic testing in the workplace - and especially as relates to employer-based health insurance - rears its (ugly?) head.

We've covered this several times over the years; in fact, our very first year we reported that "40 percent of people already undergoing genetic testing are worried that participation might affect their future insurance coverage.”

At the time, this seemed kind of a stretch, inasmuch as health insurance companies were forbidden to use these results in their underwriting process (and since group insurance has been guaranteed issue for almost 20 years, it was moot to begin with).

On the other hand, you really can't be too careful, and so we got the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), "which prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment" (the law went into effect the following year). In fact, the law goes even further, in that it also forbids the use of this information as regards benefits (including insurance).

And yet:

"Big companies are considering blending genetic testing with coaching on nutrition and exercise to help workers lose weight and improve their health before serious conditions like diabetes or heart disease develop."

At first glance, this specific use seems to skirt the letter of the law, so it's probably "kosher."  As long as the results aren't used to, for example, determine premium contribution or subsidy levels (ie how much of the premium the employer pays*), this seems to be a legitimate use of the data.

Now, the efficacy of using the information in the manner being proposed may indeed be questionable:

"[E]mployee benefits experts have doubts that such a novel approach will gain momentum. It first has to conquer steep challenges like ... employer skepticism about its effectiveness."

That is, whether or not there's actual value there, and whether it's worth the cost of implementation (these tests aren't necessarily cheap, and one presumes that the employer will be footing the bill).

A potentially more serious concern arises as to who will have access to this information, and how secure it will be. But that's another post.

[*For illustrative purposes only; regular IB readers know that employers actually pay 0% of the premium]