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Genetic Nondiscrimination Bill Passes U.S. Senate
By Kate Dalke

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed bi-partisan legislation that would specifically ban employers and health insurers from discriminating against people based on the results of genetic tests.

—Related Sites —
C-SPAN Congressional Legislation Details
Entire Bill at the Library of Congress

The bill would prohibit, for example, an employer from collecting genetic information from employees, except under certain circumstances such as the monitoring of toxic substances in the workplace. The bill would also make it illegal for health insurers to charge some people higher premiums based on their DNA.

The Senate voted 95-0 in favor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Now, members of the House of Representatives are calling on the House take up the Senate bill.

To become law, the bill must also pass the House and be signed by President Bush, who has publicly expressed his support for banning genetic discrimination in health insurance and in the workplace.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest science society, which is based in Washington , D.C., endorsed the Senate bill in a press release earlier this week.

The Health Insurance Association of America, an organization representing private health care insurers, has called the bill “premature.”

They say that the Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 already protects individuals and that the new legislation actually could raise the cost of health care.

It's been six years since Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) first introduced legislation to prohibit genetic discrimination.

“There has always been interest in the issue,” said Snowe in email correspondence.

“The challenge was in crafting a bipartisan plan that protected individuals on both issues of employment and insurance discrimination.”

Snowe took up the issue when a Maine resident with a family history of breast cancer expressed concerns that she might lose her health insurance if she tested positive for mutations in a gene associated with the disease.

The bill's co-sponsors, Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), praised the bi-partisan effort on the Senate floor today.

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