GENOMICS

Market Trends: Genetic Testing Becoming a Hot New Employee Benefit

While its clinical utility remains subject to debate, genetic testing has proven its value as an employment recruitment tool, especially on the West Coast where technology firms are leveraging its allure as an employee benefit to compete for talent in a tight job market.

Employees Want Genetic Testing as a Health Benefit
Scientific concerns over genetic testing’s effectiveness in screening healthy populations for rare mutations are well documented. But this seems not to have discouraged interest in offering such tests as an employee health benefit. Companies promote genetic testing as a means to personalize health care through development of a custom prevention strategy and early detection. Employers believe in the value of genetic testing in lowering their own health care costs over time.

A new survey conducted on behalf of Wamberg Genomic Advisors documents the popularity of genetic testing among employees, with two-thirds of respondents saying they would be interested if their employer offered "easy and affordable" genetic testing and shared testing results only with the employee and his/her doctor. The survey of 536 U.S. consumers from ages 26 to 64 with employer-sponsored health insurance was conducted in the fall of 2017 also found that one-quarter of employees want genetic testing only if it is free, and 9% have no interest in employer-offered genetic testing at all.

Test Makers Cash In
Of course, none of this has been lost on the lab industry. One notable example is Color (San Francisco), which built its initial business through offering low-cost physician-ordered genetic testing for hereditary cancer risk, and has now become a major player in the employee genetic screening market. The company’s platform enables employees of companies like Snapchat, Visa, and Salesforce to confidentially access 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 client employer a monthly aggregated, de-identified analysis of employee participation.

Privacy & Other Concerns
Of course, genetic testing as an employment benefit and other consumer uses raises red flags, including concerns about:

  • Privacy protection and the downstream health care utilization as a result of genetic tests;
  • The risk that genetic test results will lead to a false sense of security and cause healthy people with average disease risk will to forgo recommended screening tests like colonoscopies;

The converse risk that concerns over the results of genetic tests for rare genetic conditions could lead people to undergo unnecessary medical procedures.

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