House Committee Approves Genetic Discrimination Bill
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday by voice vote approved legislation (HR 493) that would ban discrimination based on the results of genetic tests, CQ Today reports (Armstrong, CQ Today, 3/23).
The legislation would prohibit group health plans from collecting genetic information and from requesting, requiring or purchasing such information for insurance underwriting. Insurers also would be prohibited from acquiring genetic information before an individual enrolls in a health plan. In addition, employers would be barred from collecting genetic information or using it in hiring or firing decisions.
The commerce committee on Thursday delayed the vote after Republicans raised concerns during a markup session. The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday by voice vote unanimously approved the bill. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), was approved by the House Education and Labor Committee on Feb. 14. The three versions of the bill must be combined by the House Committee on Rules (California Healthline, 2/15).
According to CQ Today, Republicans on the commerce committee "eventually agreed to support the bill, but they continued to object to what they described as its overly broad language." Ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, "If it becomes law, it creates a new civil rights violation and creates, in some cases, a new class action lawsuit potential" (CQ Today, 3/23).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said President Bush supports the legislation. He said, "Every one of us is biologically unique," adding, "We haven't had the knowledge to deliver health care at that kind of individual level. That's what's changing." Leavitt said, "We need to establish a general law to ensure genetic information cannot be misused" (Lopes, Washington Times, 3/24).
The bill is expected to receive a floor vote in the House after the April recess, though a vote could occur as early as next week (CQ Today, 3/23).