Bill could let your boss charge you more for insurance if you refuse genetic testing

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(CBS) -- Concern is growing over a bill that would let companies request genetic testing and effectively charge employees more for health insurance if they refuse.

The bill aims to clarify rules for workplace wellness programs. Employers would be able to offer discounts of up to 30% more to those who participate. For the average family of four, that could be a difference of more than $1,500 a year.

Some are calling this a penalty for privacy.

Most of the time, Joselyn Linder doesn't mind discussing the genetic illness that runs through her family, attacking a vein in the liver.

"So my grandmother passed it to two sons and watched two sons die of this gene," she explained.

But, Linder wouldn't want a boss to know the details of her family tree.

"How do you think you would feel if an employer said we we want to see your genetic test or we're going to charge you 30% more for your health insurance?," she asked. "I think it would feel like a penalty."

What Linder calls a penalty, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sees as motivation. She introduced a bill that would allow companies to offer insurance premium discounts to workers who undergo genetic testing as part of a workplace wellness program.

"If they don't participate in the wellness program, their premium is going to be the same as everyone else," she said. When it was pointed out that excepted people who participate in the program, she added, "Well, it's an incentive to participate in the program."

"It;s hard to imagine a good reason for wanting this information," contended Nancy Cox, the President of the American Society of Human Genetics.

In a letter to Congress, her organization and dozens of others said the bill would "impose draconian penalties on employees." Federal law bans companies from using genetic information to hire, fire, or discriminate.

"There are possibilities for misusing genetic information that make it very important for this information to be private," she said.

Foxx said she was totally surprised by the opposition to her bill.

"It would save people money and it also will help them achieve a better quality of life," she argued.

Most large companies offer wellness programs, which are supposed to encourage healthy living, prevent disease, and lower health costs. But, Joselin Linder doesn't think she'd ever join one if it meant handing over her genetic information.

"I think all of us deserve our privacy and I think all of us deserve healthcare," she said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports there's little evidence so far tha wellness programs actually improve workers' health. The biull passed a house committee this month and Rep. Foxx is optimistic about its chances of becoming law. But, with opposition mounting, it could be a tough sell in the Senate.