“Establishing federal protections against genetic discrimination” – American College of Physicians Proponent of Genetic Anonymity

How would you feel if you were required to pay higher premiums, or worse yet – denied coverage – if an insurance agency found you were “more likely” than the average human being to acquire a particular disease? What if you were denied a job you applied for because you were genetically predisposed for heart disease?

Within the past decade, analyzing one’s genome (i.e. the collection of genetic information that makes you you) has gone from a far-cry to realization as the first individual human genomes, Craig Venter (genome mogul) and James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame, discoverers of the structure of DNA), were sequenced over the past year. As genomic technologies become cheaper and genetic testing becomes more common, the risk for genetic discrimination by prospective companies and insurance agencies increases substantially.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), a group of “internists” or “physicians who specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses in adults” released a policy monograph today titled: “Establishing federal protections against genetic discrimination.” In it, the ACP outlines six positions which promotes a form of “genetic anonymity” with respect to prospective employers and insurance companies. I have reproduced their positions below; the monograph is available to the public as a pdf here.

This policy monograph highlights the need for federal protections against genetic discrimination in employment and insurance decisions in the United States and issues the American College of Physicians’ new policy positions outlining what ACP believes should be included in the federal protections. The monograph contains the following six policy positions:

Position 1: Insurance providers should be prohibited from using an individual’s genetic information to deny or limit health coverage or establish eligibility, enrollment, or premium contribution requirements.

Position 2: Insurance providers should be prohibited from establishing differential premiums based on an individual’s genetic information or request for genetic screening.

Position 3: Employers should be prohibited from using an individual’s genetic information in employment decisions, such as hiring, promoting, or terminating an employee or establishing the terms, conditions, and benefits of employment.

Position 4: Insurers and employers should be prohibited from requiring individuals and families to undergo genetic testing.

Position 5: Insurers and employers should be prohibited from collecting and/or disclosing an individual or family’s genetic information. Written and informed consent should be required for each disclosure of genetic information and should include to whom the disclosure is made.

Position 6: Congress should establish comprehensive and uniform federal protection against genetic discrimination that closes the gaps in protection due to varying state laws. Federal protection should also cover ERISA health plans.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com