Venter, Insurance Industry Face Off on Genetic Discrimination Bill
Testifying before a House Energy and Commerce trade and consumer protection subcommittee, Celera Genomics Corp. President Craig Venter urged lawmakers to outlaw genetic discrimination by approving a bill (H.R. 602) that would prohibit companies from denying insurance to people based on their genetic characteristics, Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports. Celera, along with the Human Genome Project, announced in June 2000 that they had completed rough drafts of the human genome. Venter pointed out that having a gene that is linked to a disease "does not guarantee" that the disease will develop. He added, "There is a tendency to think of DNA as the perfect predictor of future health ... I do not believe the human condition can be seen as merely a manifest of DNA sequence information." Other hearing witnesses testified that some people had lost jobs or insurance because they possessed certain genes, and others "forego genetic tests that could help them because they worry who will see the information" (Richwine, Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 7/11). A bill sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Constance Morella (R-Md.) would prohibit insurers and employers from using genetic information to discriminate. In addition, the bill would prohibit the collection or disclosure of genetic information without a person's consent and would impose penalties for violations. The bill has 250 other cosponsors, "more than enough to pass the House," the Hartford Courant reports. A companion bill in the Senate sponsored (S 318) by Sens. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has 23 cosponsors.
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The insurance industry said yesterday that it opposes the bills because they would "drive up health care costs" (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 7/12). Donald Young, interim president of the Health Insurance Association of America, said, "Although well-intentioned, these proposals would hurt the very people they're intended to help. For many people, premiums would rise" (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 7/12). Young said that legislation approved in 1996 already protects people from genetic discrimination. But Slaughter and Morella said that the 1996 legislation has "so many exceptions that a comprehensive federal law is needed." Besides Young, two Republican leaders "expressed reservations" about the bill yesterday. Energy and Commerce Chair W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) said, "Federal regulation of health insurance and health care is already too complicated to add redundant provisions. We must make sure that what we do in this area doesn't add to the complexity." Energy and Commerce trade and consumer protection subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) added, "We should not, by regulation, force health care plans or providers to create separate files of information that have to comply with one new regulatory regime after another" (Hartford Courant, 7/12). For more information on the hearing, go to http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/hearings/07112001Hearing322/haring.htm.