In the previous congress, Sen Olympia Snowe introduced Bill 306, which
would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of genetic
information with respect to health insurance and employment. It
addressed small group plans, individual medical, and medicare
That bill never made it.
So Sen Snowe, persistent if nothing else, has reintroduced her bill, S 358,
the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007. She (and her 25
cosponsors), hope to succeed this time around. It’s already been
approved by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
The goals seem reasonable enough: to prohibit insurers from declining
cover for folks with unfavorable genetic predispositions, and employers
from declining to hire them. Some states already have such laws; this
would bring the matter under the federal umbrella.
Aside from the obvious benefits, such a moratorium may encourage people
to undergo tests that they might not have previously considered, out of
fear of rendering themselves uninsurable or unemployable (or both).
It’s not clear just how many of us have considered this, but I suspect
it’s a minority. Still, anything that induces people to take a more
proactive role in their own health care shouldn’t be lightly set aside.
On the other hand, the danger exists that an inappropriately worded bill could have dire consequences on the insurance system. America’s Health Insurance Plans (an insurer lobbying group), wants to make sure that “consumers
know genetic information would not be used by health insurers to
discriminate or deny coverage, but would only be used in appropriate
ways to improve the quality of health care.” Fair enough.
A major problem with this bill is that it would prohibit insurers from
adjusting premiums based on genetic factors. Currently, HIPAA bars
carriers from charging individuals in a group different premiums based
on their health, and that’s fine. But this goes a step beyond, and
requires insurers to ignore basic risk factos in setting rates. That’s
just unacceptable; risk assessment demands that such factors be taken
As a member of a population with just such a predisposition (Ashkenazic Jews),
I’m sensitive to the issue. On the other hand, as one who adheres
strictly to insurance as a risk management tool, I know that
underwriters need to have information in order to properly assess the
risk. As an independent agent, I represent the company (carrier), but I
work for my clients, whose interests must be given priority.
I also think that there is something Orwellian in the use of genetic testing to decide whether or not someone should pay more for their insurance, or even be covered at all.
Henry Stern, LUTCF is an independent insurance agent in Dayton, OH. A
licensed Continuing Education instructor for Ohio and Kentucky, he has
well over 20 years of experience in “the biz.” He blogs every day
(or so it seems) at InsureBlog.