Senate Approves Bill To Prohibit Genetic Discrimination by Employers, Insurers
The Senate on Tuesday voted 95-0 to approve a bill (S 1053) that would mandate that employers and insurers could not discriminate against individuals based on their genetic information, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Abrams, AP/Boston Globe, 10/15). The legislation, introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), would mandate that employers could not use genetic information when they decide whether to hire employees and would allow employers to collect such information only to monitor adverse effects that result from the workplace (California Healthline, 10/3). The bill would establish guidelines for employers to use the genetic information of employees to monitor such effects (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 10/15). The bill also would mandate that insurers could not raise premiums or deny coverage based on genetic information and could not require genetic tests from policyholders (American Health Line, 10/3). The legislation defines genetic tests as those that could indicate a predisposition to future illnesses and not those that diagnose current illnesses (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 10/15). In cases of alleged genetic discrimination, employees could file complaints first with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently in federal court (Los Angeles Times, 10/15). Some states have enacted similar laws, but the federal bill would establish a "single, nationwide rule," the Hartford Courant reports (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 10/15). The Senate passed the bill after "six years of legislative gridlock" over the specific language in the legislation, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 10/15).
Supporters said that the bill would allow individuals to benefit from advanced genetic tests without concerns that they could lose their employment or health insurance, the Washington Post reports (Dewar, Washington Post, 10/15). A report released by the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which passed the legislation earlier this year, found that although "there are few well-documented cases of discrimination in the use of genetic tests," public concerns about such discrimination remain high, the Courant reports (Hartford Courant, 10/15). Snowe said, "The American people cannot have access to the quality of care and the advancement of medical and scientific discoveries if they are subjected and held hostage to the fears of discrimination by their employers and by insurers" (New York Times, 10/15). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called the legislation "a moral responsibility and a practical necessity." Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) added the bill protects "civil rights" (Washington Post, 10/15). The White House, the National Human Genome Research Institute and the American Medical Association also support the legislation (New York Times, 10/15). However, groups that represent employers and insurers oppose the bill. Donald Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, said that the legislation is "well intended" but would "add unnecessary and costly regulatory burdens without in any way improving consumer protection."
According to the Wall Street Journal, the bill "faces uncertainty" in the House, where Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced similar legislation that has "languished for years" (McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 10/15). The House has referred the bill to three separate committees -- the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Education and Workforce committees -- and a spokesperson for the Energy and Commerce Committee said that members will not likely consider the legislation this year because of attention to Medicare and energy bills (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 10/15).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.