The Senate has passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 493) by a vote of 95 (Y) to 0 (N). This bill was passed by the House in April of last year. The bill has had somewhat of an odd journey in Congress bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate for some 13 years. It hadn’t previously passed both the House and Senate in the same session of Congress. The Senate recently passed the bill in 2003 and 2005 by an overwhelming margin.
The bill had previously been held up by Senator Coburn (R-OK). The New York Times reports on his reason for objecting:
One of Senator Coburn’s main concerns was that the bill might subject employers to civil rights lawsuits stemming from disputes over medical coverage. And employers that also finance their own health insurance, he said, might be sued twice. “We would have created a trial lawyers’ bonanza,” he said.
Senator Coburn, a medical doctor, had called for a “firewall” between the employer and insurance sections of the bill. “We withstood all the criticism we got from lots of people, and now we got it fixed,” he said.
Proponents of the bill say the negotiated changes do not affect the substance of the legislation.
President Bush had signaled his support for the bill except for some minor concerns, namely the “firewall” issue brought up by Senator Coburn. Bill negotiators apparently worked out these differences and included them in a substitute amendment. Because of the changes included in the substitute amendment, the House must now pass the bill, as amended, once again before it goes to the President.
A few general provisions of the bill are listed below:
forbids insurance companies from denying coverage or raising premiums based on genetic information
forbids insurers and employers from requiring a person to submit to genetic testing
forbids discrimination against any person based on their personal or family genetic information
prohibits labor organizations from denying membership based on genetic information
prohibits the disclosure or purchase of genetic information by insurers or health planning companies
For more information on the vote and the contents of the measure, you can read this article provided by Reuters.
Update (5/21): President Bush has signed this bill into law. Below is an excerpt of his statement upon signing the bill:
I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve joined us as I sign the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, a piece of legislation which prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. In other words, it protects our citizens from having genetic information misused, and this bill does so without undermining the basic premise of the insurance industry.
Notably, one of the bill’s main sponsors was the recently-hospitalized Senator Kennedy (D-MA) who was mentioned by President Bush at the signing ceremony.