President Bush on May 21 signed into law legislation supported by the insurance industry to bar employers and health insurance plans from discriminating against individuals based on the results of genetic testing.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, HR 493, was passed overwhelmingly by both the House and the Senate.

“It protects our citizens from having genetic information misused, and this bill does so without undermining the basic premise of the insurance industry,” the president said at a signing ceremony. President Bush also offered praise for one of the champions of the legislation in the Senate as lawmakers debated the issue over the past decade, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The legislation ran into a roadblock in the Senate when Sen. Thomas Coburn, R-Okla., blocked debate of the bill on the Senate floor because of concerns that it could expose employers to litigation over medical coverage disputes.

Supporters eased those concerns, and cleared the road for passage, by adding a “firewall” between the portions of the bill relating to employers and the portions relating to governing insurers.

The legislation has enjoyed support from insurance industry groups, and they hailed the signing of the bill into law.

“With this landmark bipartisan legislation, Congress and the President have taken strong action to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s genetic makeup and to protect patients’ privacy as they pursue genetic evaluations,” said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington. “This legislation also ensures that patients can continue to benefit from health plans’ innovative early detection and care coordination programs that improve the safety and quality of care.”

Janet Trautwein, vice president and chief executive officer for the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., said the new law “will allow all Americans to make decisions about their genetic information based on their personal health needs and desires, and not the fear that gaining knowledge about their genetic makeup will be used against them.”

Ms. Trautwein also noted that the act as “an important step in advancing scientific knowledge” and said NAHU would work with the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the new law.