WASHINGTON–The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday that bars discrimination in insuring people based on genetic testing.

The House bill, H.R. 493, has the support of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which sent letters urging passage to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Similar legislation has also passed the Senate. The next step for the legislation is a conference to reconcile the differing House-Senate bills. The House bill also has Bush Administration support.

The House bill passed 420-3. Its insurance provisions bar health insurance plans from adjusting premium or contribution amounts because of genetic information and creates new confidentiality rules for such information.

According to one analysis, the bill would not prevent health insurance plans from obtaining the results of genetic tests for payment purposes or to work with providers to determine the best course of treatment for a patient.

It also clarifies that manifested diseases are not included in the definition of “genetic information”–meaning that diseases that are already active in a patient are not covered by the bill’s prohibition against using genetic information for underwriting.

Another provision applies existing administrative enforcement mechanisms in situations where genetic information may have been used or disclosed inappropriately.

Other provisions would prohibit employers from using genetic information in hiring, firing, job placement or promotion decisions.

It was sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Judy Biggert, R-Ill.

A key reason the bill should be passed is that it would eliminate “a new form of discrimination” and also remove people’s reluctance to take part in genetic research and testing, they said.

The House bill merges bills passed on the issue by the House Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Education and Labor Committees. Their provisions were combined by members of the House Rules Committee.

“The [final bill] offers a balanced, constructive approach to establishing new protections with respect to both nondiscrimination and confidentiality of genetic information,” Karen Ignani, AHIP president and CEO, stated in her letter to Speaker Pelosi. “We believe this legislation would promote informed health care decision-making by patients and practitioners and allow health plans to maintain their state-of-the-art programs to support early prevention and coordination of care.”