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Genetic Nondiscrimination Bill Approved by House Committee

On February 14, the House Education and Labor Committee approved, by voice vote, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 (H.R. 493), after adopting, also by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Chair George Miller (D-CA). The measure would prohibit employers from using individuals’ genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions. It also would make it illegal for group health plans and health insurers to deny coverage to healthy individuals or charge them higher premiums based solely on a genetic predisposition to a specific disease. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved its version of the bill on January 31 (see The Source, 2/2/07).

In his opening statement, Chair Miller said, “The key to unlocking this scientific revolution is to assure individuals of genetic privacy and nondiscrimination when they undergo genetic testing and counseling. Many Americans already forgo testing for fear of losing their jobs or their health insurance. In a 2003 NIH [National Institutes of Health] study, 39 percent of individuals surveyed cited fear of losing health insurance as the most distressing issue related to genetic testing…We all suffer if fears of lost jobs or health insurance stifle these scientific advances. That is why 41 states have passed laws to prohibit discrimination in the individual health insurance market…Every American worker deserves this protection.”

Ranking Member Howard McKeon (R-CA) said, “No employee should face discrimination on the basis of his or her genetic makeup or on any characteristic other than his or her ability to do the job. Similarly, no employee should risk his or her health insurance status simply because of the possibility that they might someday develop an illness. This bill was drafted with those fundamental principles in mind, and I believe that over the past several weeks, we’ve taken steps toward ensuring the bill we passed today keeps those principles intact, while minimizing the potential for unintended consequences.”

Rep. John Kline (R-MN) offered an amendment, approved by voice vote, that would clarify the recordkeeping provisions of the bill. The amendment specifies that an employer would be in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-191) and the bill as long as they maintained any genetic information under the same standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (P.L. 90-202).

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) offered an amendment that would have extended the bill’s protection to human embryos. The amendment was defeated, 20-27.

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