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Genetic Anti-Discrimination Cancer Bill Passed by Congress

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WASHINGTON MAY 01, 2008 (Reuters) - A landmark bill to forbid discrimination against people whose genetic information shows a predisposition to certain illnesses won final U.S. congressional approval on Thursday.

Thirteen years after such legislation was first introduced, the House of Representatives passed the bill, 414-1, and sent it to President George W. Bush, who has promised to sign it into law. The Senate approved the bipartisan measure last week, 95-0.

The bill would bar health insurers from rejecting coverage or raising premiums for healthy people based on personal or familial genetic predisposition to develop a particular disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart ailments or many others.

In addition, it would prohibit employers, unions and employment agencies from using genetic information in hiring, firing, pay or promotion decisions. It would also forbid health insurers from compelling a person to take a genetic test.

Backers of the measure said people have declined genetic tests that could help lead to treatment of their ailments out of fear they could lose their jobs or insurance coverage.

"By prohibiting the improper use of genetic information, Americans will be encouraged to take advantage of the tremendous life-altering potential of genetic research," said Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, chief sponsor of the bill. "This legislation marks the beginning of a new era."

Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois, lead Republican sponsor of the bill, said, "No one should fear for their job or health coverage because of the genes they were born with, and now they won't have to."

"Make no mistake: this bill will dramatically reduce health care costs while saving or extending human lives," Biggert said.

Opposed by some business groups, various versions of the legislation had languished in Congress since 1995. But this year, it won broad support on and off Capitol Hill.

The legislation has the backing of the White House and health insurers, although it is opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3 million small and big businesses.

Scientific and health organizations hailed the House action, saying the legislation will help combat discrimination as well as diseases.

Dr. David Herrington, a representative of the American Heart Association, said: "With this measure ... we expect more Americans will participate in genetic research and accept genetically directed strategies for treatment and prevention that will ultimately reduce the tremendous burden of heart disease, stroke and many other diseases in the U.S."

Research increasingly is revealing the genetic underpinning of many diseases. Scientists have developed numerous genetic tests to assess people's predisposition to various ailments.

The measure is intended to guarantee that results of these tests are not used against people by employers or insurers not willing to shoulder the high cost of treating some diseases.

Doctors can administer a variety of genetic tests and many companies are now offering them direct to consumers, typically at a cost of hundreds of dollars or more.

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(CancerPage, Matria Helathcare, Reuters, By Will Dunham and Thomas Ferraro, May 1, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not posted as medical advice of any kind.

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