Rarely does an issue receive such consensus in Washington as that the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act currently enjoys.
Already, the bill has twice unanimously passed the Senate during the 108th and 109th Congresses; meanwhile last April, the House passed the bill by an overwhelming 420-3 margin. To date, the White House has issued three statements of support of the legislation, which prohibits insurers and employers from discriminating against a person based on genetic information.
One senator, however, still stands in its way: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma).
Coburn–whose habitual contrariness earned him the nickname “Dr. No”–has a long track record of opposing bills that enable lawsuits against businesses and doctors. As Wired reported last November, internal Coburn memos indicate the same concern still motivates his hold on the bill today.
Though in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provided the first fledgling federal protections against genetic discrimination in health insurance, HIPAA doesn’t prevent insurance companies from requiring genetic testing for applicants or charging higher rates based on such tests’ results.
Accordingly Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York), who first introduced the bill 13 years ago, says the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act’s passage is long overdue. “No one is born with perfect genes,” she wrote in yesterday’s Huffington Post. “We simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”
Already, researchers can screen for genes linked to the development of some 1,000 diseases. In one study, the NYT reported this weekend, 7 out of 92 insurance providers said they would deny coverage, charge higher premiums or exclude certain conditions from coverage based on genetic testing.