Bush Calls for Genetic Discrimination Legislation
President Bush this weekend called for legislation that would prevent "genetic discrimination" by banning businesses and health insurers from denying people employment or coverage "based on their inherited traits," the Wall Street Journal reports. During his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said that the map of the human genome has "enormous possibilities for doing good," but added that it also "has the potential to be abused" (Cummings/Simpson, Wall Street Journal, 6/25). He added, "Employers could be tempted to deny a job based on a person's genetic profile. Insurance companies might use that information to deny an application for coverage, or charge excessive premiums" (Timms, Dallas Morning News, 6/24). Calling genetic discrimination "unfair to workers and their families," Bush said, "It is unjustified, among other reasons, because it involves little more than medical speculation" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/24). In 1997, Bush signed a law in Texas that bans the use of genetic code data in employment and group health plan coverage. Nearly half of states have some limits on the use of genetic data.
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The timing of Bush's announcement may "reflect the shifting power in the Senate to the Democrats," the Journal reports, pointing out that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has called "fighting genetic discrimination a top legislative priority." Republican Senate leaders had "refused to hold hearings on the issue" (Wall Street Journal, 6/25). Daschle and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) recently reintroduced the Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act (HR 602), which would ban discrimination in the workplace and in health insurance. However, the legislation "differs from what Bush wants," the Dallas Morning News reports. White House spokesperson Claire Buchan said Bush would support legislation that limits lawsuits against parties who discriminate based on genetics. Such legislation would cap potential damages and be "consistent with existing laws that prohibit discrimination," the Morning News reports. Slaughter said that while she is "encouraged by the president's interest in the issue," she is "not interested in watering down her bill" (Dallas Morning News, 6/24).