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House takes tough stance on genetic tests

‘I think that’s the most private of private information.’

Amid privacy concerns and dramatic growth in genetic-testing products, the Florida House on Thursday passed a bill that would ban life-insurance and long-term care insurance companies from using genetic testing information in policy decisions.

The House passed the measure (HB 879) by an 88-26 vote amid opposition from the insurance industry.

Bill sponsor Jayer Williamson, a Pace Republican, said the bill would help protect private information of consumers as they apply for life-insurance or long-term care coverage. Applicants are already required to provide health information when seeking such coverage, but supporters of the bill say genetic testing information should be shielded.

“I think that’s the most private of private information,” Williamson said during a discussion Wednesday on the House floor.

A federal law prevents health insurers from using genetic information in the underwriting process and in setting premiums. But the prohibition doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage.

The House bill would ban life insurers and long-term care insurers from requiring or soliciting genetic information; using genetic test results in the absence of diagnoses; or considering people’s decisions or actions related to genetic testing.

Curtis Leonard, regional vice president of the American Council of Life Insurers, said his group is “disappointed” with the House bill and called it government regulation that is “unlike any other in the country.”

Williamson said he hasn’t had lengthy conversations with insurance-industry lobbyists who oppose the bill.

“I have not had a lot of in-depth conversations with the life insurance people on this bill because I haven’t had a lot of them knocking down my door to come speak to me about how they can make this bill better,” Williamson said. “I have had many testify about how horrible this bill is but have never come to me with a solution to make it better.”

Insurance lobbyists, however, have been speaking with Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Bean earlier in the Session delayed a vote on his bill — which was initially identical to the House bill — so he could meet with insurance industry representatives.

Following those meetings, Bean crafted an amendment to his bill (SB 258). That amendment, in part, would prevent insurers from requiring applicants to take genetic tests or from collecting applicants’ genetic information or genetic test results without the applicants’ authorization.

But unlike the House bill, the Senate version would not preclude insurers from using the information if it already is in people’s medical records.

Leonard said his group was encouraged by the changes in Bean’s bill.

“The Senate bill would be the most restrictive limitation on insurers’ use of DNA information in the nation, while preserving honesty and transparency in the marketplace,” Leonard said.

Lawmakers must bridge the differences between the two bills before the scheduled May 3 end of the 60-day Legislative Session.

Though Bean said the issues were “complicated,” he remained optimistic that the two chambers can reach an accord.

“We’re still talking,” Bean said. “There’s a lot of nuances. We’re 95 percent of the way there, we just have to work on that 5 percent.”

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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