Health plans are increasingly willing to cover genetic tests and genetic testing companies such as 23andMe and Color Genomics are pitching to employers. Given the interest in these tests, it’s maybe not so surprising that employer benefits adviser Tom Wamberg has launched a business advising self-insured companies and insurance brokers about genomic testing through Wamberg Genomic Advisors.

The goal of the La Jolla, California-based company, is to make genomic testing readily accessible and affordable for everyone, Wamberg said in an emailed statement.

“The most promising avenues for widespread delivery of genomic testing are employee benefit programs and life insurance policies.”

The price of genomic sequencing has also come down considerably to $1,000.

The idea is to advise companies which tests they should offer based on their resources and healthcare saving goals. Among the tests it offers guidance for are:

  • Whole genome sequencing and reporting;
  • Exome sequencing and reporting;
  • Cancer genomic profiling;
  • Liquid biopsies;
  • Stem cell banking

Some of the questions Wamberg tends to get are on the topic of who covers the cost of the genomic tests, he said in emailed responses to questions.

“Some employers are considering paying for it in full for the employees, others are considering it as a voluntary benefit.”

They also want to know how, if at all, these tests can reduce their healthcare costs and whether their competitors offer them.

Wamberg added that consumer interest in specific chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes as well as Alzheimer’s disease and being predisposed to having high cholesterol, is further motivation for making these tests available through employer plans.

“Most employers we talk to want to be first in their industry,” Wamberg said. “They see this as a way to help attract and retain employees.”

Through Wamberg’s vendor partnerships, he said the business can offer more flexible pricing options on these tests. The company also provides guidance for regulatory and compliance standards, among other services.

One development of concern when it comes to companies offering genetic testing as part of an employer wellness plan is the sensitivity of that data, even if it is de-identified. Legislation proposed in the House of Representatives in March — Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act —  could enable companies to acquire genetic and other health information from employees through a loophole in privacy law known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, according to media reports such as Forbes and STAT.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-North Carolina), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced the bill known as HR 1313.  Critics warn the legislation gets around privacy protections granted through GINA because the bill takes the position that genetic tests required as part of a “workplace wellness” program aren’t entitled to those protections.

A New England Journal of Medicine article noted that the bill could dramatically change the legal landscape for wellness programs.

But given the challenge the GOP faces with much of its legislative agenda, despite getting through a committee vote, the legislation could likely face some difficulty getting passed.

Photo: Natali_Mis, Getty Images