President Bush today signed a bill supported by the insurance industry that will bar employers and health insurers from discriminating against individuals based on the results of genetic tests.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, H.R. 493, was passed by overwhelming majorities by both the House and the Senate.

The bill “protects our citizens from having genetic information misused, and this bill does so without undermining the basic premise of the insurance industry,” Bush said at a signing ceremony.

Bush also praised Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the champions of the GINA bill over the past decade, who has been diagnosed as having a brain tumor.

The bill 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 bill 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,” Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, says in a statement.

“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,” Ignagni says.

Janet Trautwein, chief executive officer of the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., says 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.”

Trautwein is hailing the act as “an important step in advancing scientific knowledge.” She says NAHU will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement the new law.