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Genetic Testing Put Policies in Place

July 1, 1997
Related Topics: Medical Benefits Law, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article, Benefits
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As HR professionals grapple with an array of legal, ethical and cultural issues related to genetic testing, many also find themselves pondering in what ways genetic testing fits into the overall corporate benefits package. Should the company reimburse employees for appropriate genetic testing? Should the company foot the bill for counseling and other services resulting from tests? There are no easy answers, but some companies are beginning to establish policies and procedures.

At Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), a Chicago-based utility serving 8.2 million people, the company covers the cost of employee genetic testing on a case-by-case basis, "as deemed medically necessary," says Lucille Younger, a company spokesperson. The firm currently covers the cost of colon and breast-cancer screening, although the company has considered offering tests for other diseases as they become available.

But ComEd doesn't stop there. It also provides counseling-something that experts say is essential. "Without a good counseling program, employees don't know what to do with the information," observes Rebecca Locketz, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Workplace Rights Project in Princeton, New Jersey. "They might not use it correctly." Indeed, an individual who finds out he or she has a gene that could cause colon cancer needs to know it isn't a death sentence. The person might never develop the disease-particularly if he or she makes a change in diet and undergoes regular colonoscopies.

In most cases, such lifestyle alterations require more than a family doctor or occupational physician. Experts suggest using professional genetics counselors because they're more apt than most physicians to be familiar with the unique risks of a genetic condition to provide specific advice. And most patients have a difficult time fully understanding the risks and probabilities of a disease.

Workforce, July 1997, Vol. 76, No. 7, p.41.

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