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House Bill Would Ban Discrimination Based On Genetic Information

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Genetic information no longer could be used to deny someone health insurance or job opportunities under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday.

``If your grandmother had breast cancer, you shouldn't be denied a job or a promotion,'' said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., before the 420-3 vote on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The measure makes it illegal for a health plan or insurer to deny coverage or charge higher premiums to a healthy person based solely on a genetic predisposition to a disease. Similarly, an employer could not use genetic information in making hiring, firing or promotion decisions.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., the chief sponsor, said she first introduced a genetic nondiscrimination bill 12 years ago. She said the need for the legislation has grown because of advances in the science. ``There's not a single person on the planet who has perfect genes,'' she said. We're all vulnerable to genetic discrimination.''

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., another sponsor, said the government spent $3.7 billion on the Human Genome Project completed in 2003 and then ``Congress walked away and left the job unfinished. ... We left people without any insurance that their genetic information wouldn't be used against them.''

Lawmakers noted that some people forgo genetic testing for fear of losing jobs or health benefits. They said there have been instances of discrimination against people with family histories of sickle cell anemia, Huntington's disease, certain cancers and other diseases.

The White House, in a statement, expressed support for the legislation. ``Concern about unwarranted use of genetic information threatens the utilization of existing genetic tests as well as the ability to conduct further research,'' it said.

Genetic discrimination bills have been approved twice by the Senate in recent years but were not taken up by the House. In January the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee approved legislation by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The bill awaits action by the full Senate.
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