U.S. Senate Passes Genetic Nondiscrimination Act, 95-0

The leaders of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee thanked their colleagues Thursday for passing H.R. 493, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits genetic discrimination by health insurers and employers. HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the bill "opens a new frontier in medicine in which we read the genetic make-up of patients to stop diseases before they even happen. This legislation opens to door to modern medical progress for millions and millions of Americans. It means that people whose genetic profiles put them at risk of cancer and other serious conditions can get tested and seek treatment without fear of losing their privacy, their jobs, and their health insurance. It's the first civil rights bill of the new century of the life sciences. With its passage, we take a quantum leap forward in preserving the value of new genetic technology and protecting the basic rights of every American."

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the committee's ranking member, also praised the bill's passage, which came on a 95-0 vote Thursday afternoon. Five senators did not vote, including presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. Kennedy's statement said the House of Representatives is expected to take up identical language "in the very near future."

"This bill will help fulfill the promise of genetic research to save lives and reduce health care costs, by establishing basic protections that encourage individuals to take advantage of genetic screening, counseling, testing, and new therapies, without fearing that this information will be misused or abused," Enzi said. "It protects both employees and employers by setting a standard of conduct that is easy to understand and easy to follow.  We are far better off setting uniform, consistent rules of the road clearly and up front, rather than allowing them to be set piecemeal through litigation."

H.R. 493 states that group health plans and health insurance issuers offering health insurance coverage in connection with group health plans may not request, require, or purchase genetic information for underwriting purposes. "Like race and gender bias, genetic discrimination is based on the unchangeable -- yet it also requires a deliberate effort to obtain gene data in order to discriminate," said Sen. Olympia Snowe. "The passage of GINA today represents the culmination of an effort that began more than 10 years ago to put in place landmark protections to safeguard Americans against genetic discrimination."

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