House Republicans denounced liberal critics as hypocrites Wednesday for opposing a bill that protects a provision within Obamacare.
House Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx introduced the bill to uphold the provision. It initially allowed employers to use voluntary workplace wellness programs as a coverage option, but the Obamacare rule was essentially gutted by later regulations. Critics warn the new bill could subject employees to mandatory genetic testing.
Foxx supports efforts to repeal the healthcare law like many on the right. She believes the wellness provision should remain implemented while the law is in place. Democrats have united against efforts to repeal their signature healthcare law, but are also adamantly opposed to the Foxx’s bill.
“The hypocrisy we’ve seen from Washington Democrats and their liberal allies is astounding,” Education and the Workforce spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt told InsideSources. “They were for these very wellness program policies before they were against them.”
The wellness program provisions were intended as a low cost alternative for employee health coverage. The employer-run programs include comprehensive strategies to improve employee health and well-being. Employers might include medical assessments, but employee participation into their workplace program is voluntary.
“It’s unfortunate that Democrats want no part in our efforts to make health care more affordable for working families and would rather undermine voluntary employee wellness programs that help lower costs,” Aronhalt said. “Workers should be empowered with the choice to enroll in popular wellness programs, and that’s exactly what this legislation is about.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) upended the provision in a ruling last year. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other critics contest the bill would undermine employee healthcare privacy by allowing employers to bypass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
“I don’t think there’s really a fair argument to be made that somehow this is just ratifying the current state of the law,” ACLU senior staff attorney Sandra Park told InsideSources. “It’s clear the exemptions right now do not exist, and from our perspective would really gut the protections in those laws.”
GINA prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. Park notes the original provision didn’t include exemptions for employers. She adds the bill would also undermine requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“What this would do is create an exemption where that employer-sponsored wellness program would not be subject to GINA,” Park said. “An employer wellness program can be created where one of the conditions is they mandate genetic testing or other sorts of disclosure of personal and family health information.”
PBS first reported last week the concerns critics have with the bill. Forbes later reported that employers could force their workers to provide intimate genetic data by leveraging thousands in penalties against them.
House Democrats and a range of privacy advocates are now gearing up to fight the bill. A few dozen healthcare and advocacy groups have also issued a letter in opposition to the measure. HR Policy Association (HRPA) contests employees’ privacy is still protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“If the employer doesn’t have any of the information I’m not quite sure how decimation under ADA or GINA plays into this,” HRPA Vice President Mark Wilson told InsideSources. “The bill is really intended to restore congressional intent when they originally passed the Affordable Care Act.”
Wilson adds the bill does reform the privacy protections so they fit into the existing healthcare law better. He notes the reforms do not undermine those worker protections.
President Donald Trump and congressional leaders are battling to end Obamacare. Republicans are now hoping to repeal and replace the law with their congressional majority. A replacement bill has been proposed, but opposition within the party makes its success uncertain.