Genetic Nondiscrimination Bill Headed to Bush's Desk

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 493) on a 414-1 vote today, sending the measure to the desk of President Bush, who has indicated he will sign it. The bill will prevent health insurers and employers from using Americans’ genetic information in hiring and coverage decisions.

"As genetic testing becomes more widely available, they hold the potential of longer lives, free of debilitating disease. But many Americans say they forgo testing because they fear losing their jobs or their health insurance," said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act will ensure that Americans' personal genetic information will be protected and will not be used for discriminatory purposes."

"Today's passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act proves there is consensus in the country that no person should be told they are going to not get hired, fired, demoted or even lose their health insurance coverage if they don't agree to a genetic test," said Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. "Due to the exceptional bipartisan partnership of [bill sponsors] Congresswomen Slaughter and Biggert, Americans have been provided with an important civil right, which will not only uphold the privacy of their genetic information, but will further help scientists and doctors find cures for an array of diseases that may affect our lives and our loved ones."

Currently, 41 states have passed laws to prohibit discrimination in the individual health insurance market and 34 states ban genetic discrimination in the workplace, according to Miller's committee.

Voting at 6:56 p.m. on Wednesday, the House also passed H.R. 5522, the Worker Protection against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act, which was introduced by Miller and U.S. Rep John Barrow, D-Ga., in the wake of the Feb. 7 explosion at the Imperial Sugar mill in Port Wentworth, Ga. This bill would force OSHA to issue a combustible dust standard. The vote to pass the bill was 247-165, with 22 Republicans joining 225 Democrats in favor.

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