Genetic Testing Emerges As New Trendy Workplace Benefit
West Coast technology companies competing for talent in a tight job market have begun offering novel health-related benefits, like overnight breast-milk shipping and elective egg freezing. Increasingly, genetic testing is being offered as an in-demand benefit in the current consumer-oriented health care environment. Despite concerns from experts over the lack of clinical benefit of screening […]
West Coast technology companies competing for talent in a tight job market have begun offering novel health-related benefits, like overnight breast-milk shipping and elective egg freezing. Increasingly, genetic testing is being offered as an in-demand benefit in the current consumer-oriented health care environment.
Despite concerns from experts over the lack of clinical benefit of screening healthy populations for rare mutations, companies and employees are interested. Companies promote the benefit as a means to personalize health care through development of a custom prevention strategy and early detection. Additionally, employers believe that over time such screening may lower health care costs for employees.
Employees largely like the idea. According to the results of a survey conducted on behalf of Wamberg Genomic Advisors, two-thirds of respondents would be interested in genetic testing if their employer offered "easy and affordable" testing and the results were only shared between the employee and their doctor. The survey, of 536 U.S. consumers from 26 to 64 years old with employer-sponsored health insurance, was conducted in the fall of 2017. Wamberg Genomic Advisors reported that one-quarter of employees want genetic testing only if it was free, and nine percent have no interest in employer-offered genetic testing.
Color (San Francisco), which built its initial business through offering low-cost physician-ordered genetic testing for hereditary cancer risk, has now become a notable player in the employee genetic screening market. The company's platform enables employees of companies like Snapchat, Visa, and Salesforce to confidentially gain information about their genetic risk for common hereditary cancers and inherited heart conditions in consultation with Color's genetic counselors. Ongoing follow-up includes reanalysis in light of changes to guidelines, risk information, or variant classification. Additionally, Color provides the employer a monthly aggregated, de-identified analysis of employee participation.
Yet, both legal and genetic experts have concerns about privacy protections and the downstream health care utilization as a result of the genetic tests. There is concern on both ends of the spectrum that this information could lead healthy people with average disease risk to forgo recommended screening tests, like colonoscopies, as a result of false assurance from genetic tests. There is also concern that broadening the use of these tests for rare genetic conditions to the broader population could also lead people to undergo unnecessary medical procedures, as a result of concerns about test results.
Takeaway: Employees and employers are eagerly jumping into the use of genetic testing as a wellness benefit, despite ongoing concerns from legal and genetic experts.
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