Bill To Ban Discrimination Based on Genetic Testing Stalled in House
A House version of a bill (S 1053) that would ban discrimination against individuals by employers and insurers based on their genetic information remains stalled in a "textbook case of obstruction by inertia," CongressDaily reports (Hess, CongressDaily, 4/20). In October, the Senate voted 95-0 to approve the bill. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), would mandate that employers could not use genetic information when they decide whether to hire employees and would allow employers to collect such information only to monitor adverse effects that result from the workplace. The bill would establish guidelines for employers to use the genetic information of employees to monitor such effects. The bill also would mandate that insurers could not raise premiums or deny coverage based on genetic information and could not require genetic tests from policyholders. The legislation defines genetic tests as those that could indicate a predisposition to future illnesses and not those that diagnose current illnesses. In cases of alleged genetic discrimination, employees could file complaints first with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently in federal court (California Healthline, 10/15/03).
In the House, the bill is "being held up by order" of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) "appears to have largely ignored it," despite an "entreaty" from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), CongressDaily reports. As a result, the legislation likely will not reach the House floor this year, "particularly in a legislative year foreshortened by the onset of national elections" in November, according to CongressDaily. The bill also faces opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of other business groups, which have requested a number of revisions to the legislation, such as:
- An exemption that would allow employers to use genetic information when they decide whether to hire employees in cases in which individuals have specific genetic markers that pose "significant risk to others";
- A provision under which federal anti-discrimination laws would take legal precedence over state laws; and
- A set expiration date to allow Congress to evaluate effectiveness of the bill.
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