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Bill preventing genetic discrimination approved by US committees

2 April 2007
Appeared in BioNews 401

The US House Energy and Commerce Committee has voted in favour of legislation to prevent insurers and employers from using genetic information to discriminate against individuals. Both the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labour Committee have also voted in favour of the legislation, which will prevent health insurers from procuring patients' genetic information before an individual joins a health plan. Employers will also be barred from obtaining such information and using it to determine whether to hire or fire an individual. The Energy and Commerce Committee had initially delayed a vote on the legislation, citing concerns that the language used was too broad.

Now that approval has been gained from the three Committees, the full House is expected to pass the Bill this week. The White House has also indicated support for the new measures, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who said that genetic testing could result in better treatments for diseases as well as more personalised healthcare.

Mr Leavitt's department has pledged $352 million to support projects aiming to put genetic information on electronic medical records. However, he is mindful that the public need to be protected against misuse of such information, stating, 'we need to establish a general law to ensure genetic information cannot be misused'.

Genetic tests are currently available for 1,300 different health conditions, and analysts have estimated that the genetic testing market could be worth $1.25 billion annually by 2009. Testing could lead to further treatments for diseases, but patients also fear that the genetic information doctors discover about them could be used to their disadvantage. It has therefore been thought necessary to introduce a federal law that would protect patients' genetic privacy.

A survey conducted by the Genetics and Public Policy Centre found that while 90 per cent of Americans supported the use of genetic testing to establish a person's vulnerability to future disease, 90 per cent were also concerned that the results of the tests could be used against them. Kathy Hudson, director of the Centre, said that, 'while the public trust their doctors and genetic researchers, they simply do not trust health insurers or employers to have access to their genetic information'.

Bills would bar genetic data from insurers
The Washington Times |  24 March 2007
House Committee Approves Genetic Discrimination Bill
Kaiser Network |  26 March 2007
House Ways And Means Committee Passes Bill To Prohibit Genetic Discrimination
Medical News Today |  26 March 2007
Republican Concerns Stall Genetic Discrimination Bill
Kaiser Network |  23 March 2007
29 January 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
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5 September 2005 - by BioNews 
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The current restrictions on the use of genetic test results by UK insurers will be extended until November 2011, the government has announced. A five-year moratorium imposed by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) was due to expire in November 2006. The new agreement forms part of a binding framework...
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