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Smooth Sailing Predicted for Genetic Nondiscrimination Bill

A House bill that would prevent employers and insurers from denying coverage or charging more to people with a genetic predisposition to diseases should sail through committee tomorrow and hit the House floor by the end of the month, supporters say.

A decade of effort in crafting and vetting the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 493) have yielded language with bipartisan support, including backing from the White House, which should make its passage likely, activists and Congressional staffers said.

It’s an issue “whose time has come,” Susannah Baruch of the Genetics & Public Policy Center said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), is scheduled for markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow. The Ways and Means Committee will mark up the bill March 21.

Since the bill was introduced in late January, it passed the Education and Labor Committee by a voice vote.

Backers also foresee quick approval of identical legislation (S. 358) in the Senate, given that the Senate unanimously has passed the same legislation in the last two sessions.

The bill makes it illegal for group health plans and health insurers to deny coverage to a healthy individual or charge higher premiums based solely on a genetic predisposition to a specific disease. The legislation also bars employers from using individuals’ genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement or promotion decisions.

After more than 10 years of negotiations, all that’s left is to fine-tune the bill’s language, Baruch said. The bill was first introduced in 1995.

Some of the issues that might still arise involve how the bill will define a genetic test, Baruch said. Small business groups have expressed concerns that too broad a definition will lead to additional paperwork.

As genetic tests become more sophisticated, the public has become increasingly concerned that the test results will be used against them, Baruch said. As a result, people have refrained from taking tests that can help reveal harmful genetic conditions or participate in clinical trials to help develop new treatments for these ailments, she added.

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