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House Sends Genetic Testing Bill To White House

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Members of the House today voted 414-1 to pass the final version of H.R. 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The Senate voted 95-0 to pass the bill April 24, and insurance industry groups are expecting that President Bush soon will it.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, and the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., put out statements welcoming House passage of the bill.

“Once signed into law, this legislation will strengthen patients’ privacy protections while preserving their access to health insurance plans’ innovative prevention and coordination programs that enhance the safety and quality of care,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni says in a statement.

John Greene, vice president of congressional affairs at NAHU, says the bill will ban wrongful genetic discrimination while preserving “the normal underwriting procedures which keep insurance affordable.”

Another important element of the bill “is protection for employers from civil rights lawsuits stemming from disputes over medical coverage,” Greene says.

In seeking support for the bill on the House floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill will prevent health insurers from making adverse coverage or pricing decisions based on an individual’s genetic predisposition toward developing a disease.

“It ensures an employer cannot make adverse employment decisions based on what is in a person’s genetic code, and also makes it illegal for an insurer or employer to request or demand a gene test,” Pelosi said.

Congress has been working on genetic testing discrimination legislation since the mid-1990s.

H.R. 493 ran into a roadblock in the Senate when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised concerns about the possibility that the bill might expose employers to litigation over medical coverage disputes.

Bill supporters dealt with that concern by adding a “firewall” between the portions of the bill relating to employers and those governing insurers.


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