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The US Senate has passed a bill that would prohibit employers, health insurers and other groups from discriminating on the basis of genetic information.

Advances in genetic testing have sparked concerns that individuals could find themselves excluded by employers or health organizations because they may have a genetic disposition to certain illnesses, particularly those that are costly to treat.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2005, which would amend a series of existing health and employment acts, would outlaw such discrimination, whether by employers, health plans, or labour organizations. It also extends medical privacy and confidentiality rules to cover genetic information.

Though the bill was passed by 98-0 in the Senate, yesterday’s vote does not guarantee the bill will ever make it into law.

While the White House has indicated its support for yesterday’s bill, it still has to gain support in the House of Representatives. The House is seen as more susceptible to pressure from interest groups than the Senate, and health industry lobbyists will no doubt fight hard against anything that restricts insurers’ ability to cherry pick the healthiest patients and whack up premiums on the rest.

In fact a remarkably similar bill was passed in 2003, and also gained White House support, only to wither on the (non-GMO) vine.

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