KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

President Bush Signs Genetic Nondiscrimination Legislation Into Law

President Bush on Wednesday signed into law a bill (HR 493), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, that prohibits discrimination based on the results of genetic tests, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Feller, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/22). Under the bill, employers cannot make decisions about whether to hire potential employees or fire or promote employees based on the results of genetic tests.

In addition, health insurers cannot deny coverage to potential members or charge higher premiums to members because of genetic test results. The House this month voted 414-1 to approve the bill, while the Senate last month approved the legislation 95-0 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 5/2).

Bush said the bill "protects our citizens from having genetic information misused ... without undermining the basic premise of the insurance industry" (Ward, Washington Times, 5/22).

After signing the legislation, Bush thanked Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who waged a "13-year battle" to get genetic nondiscrimination legislation passed, and other congressional members instrumental in passage of the bill, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, in order to pass the bill, legislators had to overcome opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, who said that the legislation could lead to frivolous lawsuits against employers (Kelly, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 5/22).

Supporters called the bill the "first major civil rights act of the 21st century" and said they hope it will encourage more people to participate in clinical research for treatments of specific genetic sequences, according to the Chicago Sun-Times (Thomas, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/22).

Slaughter said, "I am absolutely overjoyed. Americans have been waiting a very long time for the protections that this bill provides, and I am so proud that the wait is over. I'm especially excited to watch the advancements in science and medicine that will surely follow this enactment" (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 5/22).

C-SPAN video of Bush signing the bill is available online (C-SPAN, 5/21).

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