GENETIC DATA: Genetic Privacy Laws Unlikely This Year
Unfazed by President Clinton's warning that the deciphering of the human genetic code could lead to discrimination, congressional Republicans say that genetic privacy laws and protections are unlikely to pass this year, the Los Angeles Times reports. "There (has) been no incidence of genetic discrimination that anyone can point to at this period of time. However, this clearly is an issue that Congress will have to deal with in time," Stephen Schmidt, spokesperson for House Commerce Committee Chair Tom Bliley (R-Va.) said. At Monday's announcement of the successful completion of the human genome map, both Dr. Francis Collins, head of a publicly funded international research team, and Dr. Craig Venter, who led a team at Celera Genomics, warned that people will avoid genetic testing if they believe employers or insurers might use the information against them. "Genetic discrimination in insurance and the workplace is wrong and it ought to be prevented by effective federal legislation," Collins said (Zitner, 6/28).
Bill on the Table
In February, President Clinton issued an order barring federal agencies from using genetic material to hire, promote or dismiss any federal worker ( California Healthline, 2/9). Current law also prohibits insurers from refusing coverage to the 170 million people in group health plans based on genetic information. Insurers of group plans also are barred from raising individual premiums based on genetic testing. A bill sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) would extend these protections to individual health insurance plans and would prohibit employers from using genetic information to discriminate in hiring, promoting or setting salaries. Bliley has blocked the measure by refusing to schedule committee hearings, but supporters of the bill have collected 150 of the requisite 218 signatures needed to move the bill to the House floor for a full vote. "If we needed a wake-up call to say it's time to do this, isn't today the wake-up call?" Collins asked (Los Angeles Times, 6/28).