Today, the US newspapers are reporting that the US Senate approved
landmark healthcare legislation by a unanimous vote of 95 to 0.
According to the WSJ,
the legislation barred "insurers and employers from discriminating
based on a person’s genetic makeup, a move many employers dislike, but
one that could accelerate both genetic testing and research on
personalized medicine." Next week, the same bill is expected to sail
through the House… and on to President Bush, who is expected to sign
Los Angeles Times
noted that the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act "does more than protect
those who undergo genetic testing: it marks a significant milestone in
the effort to develop a 21st century architecture of laws to govern the
revolutionary changes sweeping science and medicine." The bill "was
more than a decade in the making," and the Times goes on to call it
"notable because while scientific changes are occurring at a rapid
pace, agreement on how to deal with the consequences is lagging."
The Associated Press
added that currently there, "are more than 1,100 genetic tests
available and genetic testing could lead to early, lifesaving therapy
for a wide range of diseases with hereditary links such as breast and
prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease."
In Baltimore, the Sun
explained that the "legislation would bar health insurers from using
genetic information to deny coverage or raise the rates on customers.
It would also prevent employers from hiring, firing, or placing
employees based on the information."
noted that, according to experts from Myriad Genetics Laboratories and
the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, the
bill "removes an obstacle that keeps some people from getting tested to
find out whether they have a high risk of developing diseases such as
breast or colon cancer." Likewise, it "would make it easier for
scientists working to uncover links between genetics and common
diseases such as heart disease and diabetes."
See links for referenced articles.
This legislation is long over due and protects private citizens from
unscrupulous employers and insurers. Increasingly, we live in an era of
personalised and preventative medicine, where getting tested for
genetic mutations and thus receiving appropriate targeted therapy means
that mortality and morbidity should decrease in the long run. If you
catch most diseases early, they are easier to treat than when they
become advanced and established. Many Americans were reluctant to
participate in screening for fear of being discriminated against either
by their employer or health insurer. This legislation changes that, for
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) described it as "the first civil
rights bill of the new century of life sciences. We made sure today
that our laws reflect the [scientific] advances we are making."
Sometimes even the politicians get things right; it’s a victory for common sense.