GENETIC PROTECTION BILL: Senate Votes to Prohibit Suits
Three days following the announcement that researchers had successfully completed a map of the human genome, the Senate rejected a Democratic proposal to permit individuals to file suit against insurance companies or employers if genetic information is misused, opting instead for a narrower Republican measure, the AP/Boston Globe reports. The Senate voted 54-44 to defeat the bill proposed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), which would prohibit insurance companies from basing coverage or premiums on genetic information and mandating genetic tests for coverage. It also would prevent employers from using the information to hire or promote workers and would allow people to sue for genetic discrimination. "We cannot take one step forward in science and two steps backward in civil rights," Daschle said, adding, "Discrimination based on genetic factors is just as unacceptable as that based on race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability." Asserting that the Democratic bill required more study and could potentially lead to thousands of lawsuits, the Senate voted 58-40 for an alternative measure introduced by Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) that would also restrict the use of genetic information by insurance companies and group health plans, but not extend these restrictions to employers or permit the right to sue for discrimination (Anderson, 6/30). Current laws prevent insurers from denying coverage or raising premiums to those in group health plans on the results of genetic testing; the Jeffords proposal would extend those protections to the 13 million people who obtain insurance as individuals. Democrats decried the measure, saying it provides insufficient protection. "It's not half a loaf; it's no more than a thin slice," Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said of the proposal. As the legislation is only part of a large appropriation bill that President Clinton has threatened to veto, its future remains undetermined (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 6/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.