New Law Strictly Limits Use of Genetic Testing for Employment and Health Insurance

Called "the most important new antidiscrimination law in two decades," the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) began to take effect on November 21, 2009. GINA prevents employers from using genetic information about employees to make decisions about hiring, firing and promotions, and also bars health insurers from using such information to deny or set the cost of coverage. The new law greatly expands protections for people with and without special needs, and makes it easier for those who believe that they have suffered from genetic discrimination to obtain relief.

Congress passed GINA in 2008, but it is just beginning to be implemented. The first stage of implementation focuses on the workplace, making it illegal for employers of 15 or more people to use the results of genetic testing as a basis for human resources decisions, including hiring and firing. During December, group health insurance plans must also come into compliance with the new law.

While most people think that the law applies primarily to DNA testing, GINA also prevents employers from asking for an employee's family medical history. This is especially important for people who have family histories of physical and mental disabilities or certain kinds of cancer. Advocates argue that employers have been known to deny promotions to people with greater susceptibilities to certain afflictions.

When GINA's health insurance provisions are up and running, health insurers will not be able to ask applicants for genetic information before granting coverage, and health plans will no longer be able to provide discounts to people who choose to voluntarily provide family medical histories. However, the insurance provisions do not apply to life insurance policies or long-term care insurers.

To read more about the new law in a recent New York Times article, which characterizes GINA as the "most important new antidiscrimination law in two decades," click here.

The Department of Health and Human Services has posted a fact sheet detailing the new law here. Article Last Modified: 11/18/2009

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