Semantics aside, Foxx’sbill an assault on privacy

A few weeks ago Fifth District Rep. Virginia Foxx introduced a bill known as the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act.

Continuing a fine tradition in Washington, her bill has nothing to do with preserving employee wellness programs, but uses such a glowingly means-nothing name to hide a much more sinister plan: Empowering employers to all but force employees to turn over their genetic testing results.

If that sounds familiar, we wrote about the bill on March 24, highlighting the dangers of the legislation and questioning why Foxx, a supposed small-government, individual-rights kind of conservative, would sponsor such a Big Brother type of law.

Seems she didn’t care too much for our editorial because she submitted a letter to the editor, which appears on this page today, that attempts to highlight all the ways we were wrong in our editorial.

It’s the same old argument she’s been using all around the Fifth District in justifying what she’s done — and given the widespread criticism she’s received, Foxx has gotten pretty good at the deceptive response.

Only problem is, once you peel away all the semantics, the bill says what we said it does: if passed, it would give employers the right to force employees to give up genetic testing results for themselves, and possibly their family members if those relatives are on a company insurance plan. If you refuse? You’re smacked with a higher insurance rate, or a fine, that could be as much as 30-percent higher than the insurance rate you’ll pay if you cave in and hand over the info.

Foxx tries to say this is just business as usual, that wellness plans have been in existence for years as a way to make a healthier workforce and to save on insurance and medical costs, and that lower premiums are “incentives” to participate.

She’s right about that. Some employers do have these plans, and they usually go something like this:

1) If you don’t smoke, you get a lower insurance premium. If you do smoke, but choose to go through a smoking cessation program, you get a lower premium.

2) If you go through a couple of nutrition or exercises classes, or you participate in a regular exercise program sponsored through work, you get a lower insurance premium.

The difference in these examples is there are two basic insurance premium levels. If you choose to do something everyone knows is unhealthy and likely to result in health care issues along the way, such as smoking, you have to pay the higher premium.

Likewise, if you make some choices that everyone recognize as healthy — better eating, participating in a regular exercise program — those are choices you make in order to earn a lower insurance premium.

Foxx’s measure? There’s no lifestyle change to earn a lower premium, no healthy alternatives to earn lower insurance costs.

No, her bill says employers can require you to give up your genetic test results — maybe even force you to have genetic testing done if you haven’t before — or you pay. Folks, that’s not a wellness incentive, that’s extortion, forcing you to give up your final, most prized and intimate possession: your genetic profile.

As of this writing, it’s against federal law for an employer or any other agency to make such a demand. But Foxx, cleverly disguising this as a “wellness program” law, circumventing present federal regulations.

The question that demands an answer is why? Under any circumstances, whether it’s a wellness program or not, would anyone need an individual’s genetic profile? What possible reason could there be?

Our nation has a horrible track record when it comes to genetics. It wasn’t so long ago those in the white supremacist movement said blacks were “genetically inferior” to whites and used that as justification to treat African-Americans as less than full-fledged citizens.

And the eugenics program carried out by the United States, under the aggressive and watchful protection of no less than Oliver Wendall Holmes and the U.S. Supreme Court, is one of the blackest, yet least reported, periods in our history.

Essentially, anyone found to be “feeble minded” could be thrown in special prisons for morons and imbeciles (actual, official medical terms of the day), and released only when forced to undergo invasive, permanent sterilization surgeries. In the parlance of modern politics, we could say the sterilization wasn’t so much forced on the victims as it was offered as an “incentive” to be freed from the prisons.

Generally, the only “defect” for these folks was a lack of education and a lack of access to legal representation.

Given the nation’s horrible record when it comes to genetics — and North Carolina’s is just as bad — it’s scary when federal lawmakers start talking about requiring individuals to give up their genetic make-up to their employers, their insurance companies, and who knows where else that information would go.

No matter how she tries to say otherwise with word games, that’s exactly what Foxx’s legislation will do, give employers a way to virtually force employees to give up their genetic information.

We don’t believe anything as nefarious as sterilization or camps for those judged inferior will result. We think it’s far more likely genetic profiling will take the form of higher insurance rates for certain people, or maybe forcing people with certain genetic traits out of the workforce — in short, discrimination against individuals based on some genetic coding, rather than on who they actually are as a person.

And we’ve had far more than enough of that type of discrimination in our society.

Foxx’s bill has no good reason for existence, and we hope it’s given a quick death in the House.

comments powered by Disqus