Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

And more on why the new bill is important

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Again from Bob, an article from the Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski:

Some women have been refusing to get the test to detect a gene that causes breast cancer out of fear its discovery might cost them their jobs, but all that should change under a bill the Senate passed Thursday that’s expected to become law as soon as next week.

The 95-0 Senate vote culminated Rep. Louise M. Slaughter’s 13-year battle for legislation banning genetic discrimination, which Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called “the first civil rights bill of the 21st century.”

Supporters said the bill will not only help save the lives of those with the breast cancer gene, but also those of countless other people who may be predisposed to other diseases.

Now such people will be able to get genetic testing and begin preventive care without fear of losing their jobs or health insurance, said Slaughter, D-Fairport.

“This legislation not only will stamp out a form of discrimination, but will allow us to realize the tremendous lifesaving and life-altering potential of genetic research,” she said. “This will usher in a whole new era in health care.”

Slaughter said some doctors have been recommending that their patients not get the test for a gene that causes breast cancer, out of fear that the mere presence of that gene could be revealed to insurers or employers who would want to cut their ties to anyone likely to develop the disease.

But under the bill, employers would be barred from using genetic information in making hiring, firing or promotion decisions. In addition, health insurance companies could not use genetic information to set premiums or decide whether someone is eligible for coverage.

The bill will affect everyone in the nation, Slaughter noted, “because everybody has 30 or 40 bad genes.”

Slaughter, a microbiologist by training, began pushing for the bill in 1995, when relatively few genetic tests were done.

But the completion of the human genome project five years ago changed all that. There are now more than 1,100 genetic tests, but they would be “absolutely useless” if people were afraid to take them for fear of discrimination, said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

“This truly is a milestone . . . for enabling people to access genetic testing,” Snowe said. “This will yield benefits for generations to come.”

It took nearly a generation of work to get the bill passed, however, for one simple reason.

“The drug companies and the insurance companies were scared of it,” Slaughter said.

Even though a majority of House members had co-sponsored Slaughter’s bill, committee leaders in the Republicanled House in the early part of the decade refused to bring it up for a vote.

That changed last year, as the new Democratic majority quickly moved last April to pass the measure by a vote of 420-3.

The bill had passed the Senate twice in earlier Congresses, but this time the legislation ran into a roadblock: Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican nicknamed “Dr. No” because of his penchant for putting holds on bills he doesn’t like.

Senators can place holds on bills at any time, and Coburn put a hold on Slaughter’s bill. In an e-mail to supporters, he argued the bill “would benefit trial lawyers more than it would protect patients.”

That meant Kennedy, Snowe and the other Senate supporters had to negotiate with Coburn, and they finally reached a settlement this week.

The deal included clarifying language aimed at discouraging inappropriate legal claims. In addition, the revised bill makes it clear that while individuals are protected from discrimination based on their genes, insurance companies still can use the presence of a disease to determine whether a person qualifies for health insurance, and what that person should pay.

“We certainly improved the bill from a liability standpoint,” said Coburn, an obstetrician.

The Coburn compromise means that the House will have to vote again on the Senate version of the bill. Slaughter, who is chairwoman of the House Rules Committee — which sets the terms of debate on the House floor — said she expected the House to pass the Senate bill next week.

The bill then goes to the White House, where President Bush is expected to sign it. The White House has issued statements of support for the bill several times.

The vast number of organizations that support the bill, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, were thrilled to hear it was about to become law.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:51 am

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