MEDICAL PRIVACY: Bill Would Block Genetic Discrimination
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) Tuesday introduced a bill backed by President Clinton and included in the GOP Patients' Bill of Rights that would block insurers from denying coverage or setting premiums based on genetic information. Under the bill, insurers would not be able to discriminate based on family history or the results of genetic tests and would be "required to inform patients of confidentiality safeguards." Citing the example of genetic breast cancer tests that can help patients at risk take extra precautions, Snowe said, "Americans should not live in fear of knowing the truth about their health status. They should not be afraid that critical health information could be misused" ( AP/Bangor Daily News, 3/10).
The Senate began its debate over medical privacy in earnest this week as members introduced two bills and promised a third. Sens. James Jeffords (D-VT) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) Tuesday introduced the 1999 version of the Health Care Personal Information Nondisclosure Act, and on Wednesday, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Medical Information Privacy and Security Act. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) is expected to introduce yet another bill by the end of this month, according to a spokesperson. Reuters Health reports that while the Bennett bill "would create a national standard for the protection of identifiable medical information," Leahy's bill "would create a national 'floor,' allowing stronger state laws to be applied." Similarly, Jeffords' bill "permits any stronger state laws existing at the time of enactment," and gives states 18 months to pass stronger protections in the areas of public health and mental health. Health industry groups have embraced Bennett's bill, while civil liberties advocates have attached themselves to Leahy's. Medical information, said Dodd, "is too available to too many people. We need to be able to say to people that your medical records are going to be behind a deadbolt and your privacy will be protected" (Rovner, 3/11).