USA Today Opinion Pieces Address Genetic Testing and Medical Privacy
Genetic tests that identify predisposition to certain medical conditions could "cause more problems than they solve" without laws to protect the confidentiality of test results, according to a USA Today editorial. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects patients from health insurance discrimination based on genetic information, the editorial states. However, the editorial points out that the law, which only applies to individuals covered under group health plans, leaves 16 million individuals unprotected. The editorial adds that courts have not decided whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars non-work-related medical tests on employees, would apply to genetic tests. According to the editorial, genetic tests "are beneficial only if individuals are assured that this most private medical information is kept out of the hands of those able to use it against them, including employers who might fire workers with health risks, or insurance companies that might deny health coverage." The editorial concludes, "Fears about the misuse of genetic information could be allayed by clear national standards" (USA Today, 8/20).
Fear "drives concerns about genetic discrimination by health insurance companies, not fact," Henry Desmarais, senior vice president of policy and information at the Health Insurance Association of America, writes in an accompanying USA Today opinion piece. According to Desmarais, group health plans, which cover the "overwhelming majority" of Americans, cannot revise, cancel or refuse coverage or increase premiums based on genetic tests. He adds that most states do not allow most companies that market individual health insurance policies to use the results of genetic tests for risk classification or risk selection. Health insurance companies, which process "literally hundreds of thousands of information transactions daily," also have an "excellent track record" of patient confidentiality, Desmarais writes. However, the results of genetic tests "can and should be used by providers and health plans to ensure that prevention -- often the most effective type of care -- is provided," he adds. Desmarais concludes, "With health care costs rising in double digits, we must beware of allowing fear to lead us into the folly of legislation that will hurt consumers" (Desmarais, USA Today, 8/20).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.