Senate Poised to Outlaw Genetic Discrimination

October 3, 2003 ( - The United State Senate is expected to pass, in about 10 days, a bill that would bar discrimination by employers and insurers on the basis of the person's genetic history.

The bill (S 1053) would prohibit insurers from raising premiums or denying coverage based on the results of a genetic test, according to the Daily Health Policy Report. The bill, which enjoys White House support, would likewise prevent employers from using genetic information in hiring and would allow companies to collect such data only to monitor adverse effects resulting from the workplace.

Under the measure, it would be illegal for insurers to raise premiums or deny coverage based on genetic test results and insurers could not require genetic tests. Critics of the bill counter that the legislation is unnecessary because genetic discrimination is not occurring, but proponents argue that fear of discrimination is discouraging individuals from getting such tests that could indicate susceptibility to some health conditions.

The bill won approval from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee in May, but got bogged down in a language dispute – a logjam that has apparently now been broken with compromise language brokered by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire). The measure is scheduled for an October 14 vote.

Similar legislation introduced by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-New York) is pending in the House, but the outlook there is “much less clear,” according to news reports.