People learning, through genetic testing, that they might be susceptible to devastating diseases wouldn't also have to worry about losing their jobs or their health insurance, under anti-discrimination legislation the Senate passed Thursday.
The 95-0 Senate vote sends the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act back to the House, which could approve it early next week. President Bush supports the legislation. The measure bars insurers from denying health coverage or charging higher premiums based on a person's genetic information. Also, it bars employers from using genetic information to make hiring, firing, and other job-related decisions. The measure applies only to people who have a genetic makeup that carries the risk of a disease. It does not cover people who already have the disease.
As with everything, there's good news and bad news
First, the good news. The law provides protection, which should encourage more people to be tested for a variety of things earlier, which allows people to change behaviors and seek treatment earlier. That's a good thing, as the prognosis for almost every condition improves if people have the information they need to make better choices.
Now the bad news. The legislation offers no protection for those who already have a disease. Seems a little unfair if you're already battling something. Additionally, I think this will limit the potential effectiveness of wellness initiatives down the road.
Not following me on why this may hamper wellness initiatives? When trying to motivate people to live healthier lifestyles, companies usually focus on the following measurements as a basis for how healthy a person is:
1. Blood Pressure
2. Body Mass Index (BMI)
3. Blood Sugar/Glucose
5. Resting Heart Rate
With that in mind, how many of these factors do you think might ultimately prove to have genetic predisposition based on your family history? 4 out of 5?
These are the measurements that any wellness incentive program would hold employees accountable by. Whether you use the carrot (rebates on employee contributions for good scores) or the stick (charging employees with poor scores and no efforts to improve), the DNA bill will likely ultimately limit your ability to economically motivate your employees to live healthier lifestyles.
If I have high blood pressure and there's a test that shows I am genetically predisposed to that condition, you won't be able to use the carrot or the stick. It would likely be discriminatory under the law.
Even if the employee is eating 4 Grand Slams at Denny's a day. File it under the Law of Unintended Consequences...