Genetic Bias Bill Moving to Law

In a rare unanimous vote, the US Senate passed a bill last week that would outlaw discrimination against a person based on his/her genetic profile. Aimed at both health insurers and employers, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act would bar insurance companies from

“I'm one of those people you hate because of genetics. It's the truth.”—Brad Pitt

In a rare unanimous vote, the US Senate passed a bill last week that would outlaw discrimination against a person based on his/her genetic profile. Aimed at both health insurers and employers, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act would bar insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on genetic information. The bill would also forbid employers from making any decisions on hiring, firing, or promotions based on a person’s genetic make-up.

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and a physician, had been holding up the bill. Compromise language, “aimed at discouraging inappropriate legal claims,” then won his support.

A recent survey by Johns Hopkins University shows that more than nine out of 10 Americans are fearful that their genetic information could be used against them. Only one in four would trust insurers with such information and only 16% would trust their employers.

Employer groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have opposed the bill, primarily because they fear an increase in job-related lawsuits, even though the bill attempts to ease those fears by requiring employees who want to sue to first apply to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s not enough, according to a US Chamber spokesperson, who also noted that the bill fails to preempt laws in 35 states that deal with the same issue, leaving multi-state corporations with a hodge-podge of different rules to comply with.

The US House of Representatives is expected to pass the landmark legislation sometime this week, and President Bush has promised that he will sign it when it reaches his desk.

1,000+Number of tests currently available to doctors and patients for diagnosing or assessing the risk of potentially life-threatening diseases.(Scientific American, 2008)

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