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Genetic testing emerges as new trendy workplace benefit

Companies competing for talent in a tight job market often look to their benefit packages to see what they can add to help their recruiting and retention efforts.

Some West Coast technology companies have even 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.

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.

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