Genetics Test Info Discrimination Bill Passes U.S. Senate

April 25, 2008 ( - The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a measure barring employers from using information from genetic testing to hire, fire, or promote workers.

An Associated Press news report said the   Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 493)also prohibits insurance companies from using genetic testing results for determining eligibility or setting premiums.

“For the first time, we act to prevent discrimination before it has taken firm hold and that’s why this legislation is unique and groundbreaking,” said Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who sponsored the bill with Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), the AP reported.

The measure goes back to the U.S. House, which could approve it as early as next week. The bill has the support of the White House, according to the AP.

The Senate passed genetic nondiscrimination bills on unanimous votes in 2003 (See US Senate Oks Genetic Anti-Discrimination Measure ) and 2005 but without action by the House. A year ago the House approved a White House-backed bill on a 420-3 vote (See Genetic Discrimination Bill Finally Clears the U.S. House ).

A compromise worked out earlier this week tightens language to ensure there is a firewall between the bill’s health plan language and the employment section, which the news report said was intended to discourage inappropriate legal claims.

It also makes clear that, while individuals are protected from discrimination based on genetic predisposition, insurance companies still have the right to base coverage and pricing on the actual presence of a disease.

“Up until now, our laws have not kept pace with emerging technology, and doubts about the misuse of genetic information are preventing Americans from participating in tests that could improve their long-term health,” Snowe said, in a Web statement. “What good are genetic breakthroughs if their benefits are not realized by those they would benefit? If our genetic tests are left on the shelf it is as if the human genome were still uncharted.”

U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-New York), chief House sponsor of the bill with Representative   Judy Biggert (R-Illinois), said the House would “get it out to the White House as quickly as we can.”