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Genetic Nondiscrimination: Sounds Good, Right?

The Senate is scheduled this afternoon to debate H.R. 493, the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act, with the new legislation in question being a "bipartisan compromise" substitute introduced by Senators Snowe, Kennedy, and Enzi. According to Senator Kennedy's news release:

With regard to health insurance discrimination, the Act will:
  • PROHIBIT enrollment restriction and premium adjustment on the basis of genetic information or genetic services;

  • PREVENT health plans and insurers from requesting or requiring that an
    individual take a genetic test; and

  • COVER all health insurance programs, including those under ERISA, state
    regulated plans, and the individual market.
  • With regard to employment discrimination, the Act will:

  • PROHIBIT discrimination in hiring, compensation, and other personnel

  • PROHIBIT the collection of genetic information, and allow genetic testing only
    to monitor the adverse effects of hazardous workplace exposures;

  • REQUIRE genetic information possessed by employers to be confidentially
    maintained and disclosed only to the employee or under other tightly controlled
    circumstances; and

  • COVER employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and training
  • Well, the devil is in the legislative DNA. Last year, Hans Bader at the Competitive Enterprise Institute blogged on the House-passed bill, noting its failure to include a "direct threat" exception "to preserve public safety in scenarios like the bus driver who is prone to seizures." And employers and insurers can consider family medical histories, why not genetic indicators?

    Because it's new and scary? Hans has surveyed the scene again today and still doubts the need for legislation.

    In any case, news coverage doesn't indicate a lot of controversy and we anticipate overwhelming passage. Here's the AP story and The Washington Post.

    UPDATE (2:05 p.m.): CQ Politics reports, "[Sen.] Coburn argued that the [House] bill would expose companies and insurers to undue risk of lawsuits, an objection shared by the White House. ...The compromise headed for Senate passage Thursday addressed those concerns and won approval from the White House."

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    Rafael Mangual
    Project Manager,
    Legal Policy

    Manhattan Institute


    Published by the Manhattan Institute

    The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.