No Gattaca Here: Genetic Anti-Discrimination Law Goes Into Effect

By Brett Israel | November 16, 2009 8:04 pm

dna-gel-webDon’t let anyone treat you badly because of your genes. As of this weekend, it will be against the law.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prevents both employers and insurance companies from requiring genetic tests or from using your family’s medical history against you. The biggest change resulting from the law is that it will–except in a few circumstances—prohibit employers and health insurers from asking employees to give their family medical histories. The law also bans group health plans from the common practice of rewarding workers, often with lower premiums or one-time payments, if they give their family medical histories when completing health risk questionnaires [The New York Times]. The law also bars employers from requiring genetic testing or using such information to make decisions on hiring, firing or promoting employees.

To alleviate the privacy concerns of people that have had genetic testing, Congress stepped in and passed GINA last year. The act takes effect Nov. 21 for all employers with 15 or more employees. It applies to group health insurers whose plan years begin on or after Dec. 7, and it took effect for individual health insurance plans last May. The act does not apply to life insurers. The act would ban a company from not promoting a 49-year-old to chief executive because it knew his father and grandfather died of heart attacks at age 50 [The New York Times]. It is still legal for employers to glean information about an employee’s medical history from family obituaries, or to inquire why an employee missed work to care for a sick relative under the Family Medical Leave Act. However, it will now be illegal to use this information to somehow penalize the employee.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Top 100 Stories of 2008 #29: A New Law Bans Genetic Discrimination
80beats: NYC Uses DNA to Indict Suspects to Be Named Later
80beats: Genetic Testing of African Refugees Raises Outcry From Scientists
80beats: DNA Sampling of Innocent-Until-Proven-Guilty People Is on the Rise

Image: flickr / IRRI Images

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Em

    But in Gattaca, wasn’t it also illegal to do any of that? Yet they still did it anyway.
    Still, it’s a step forward I guess.

  • Vincent

    @Em

    Yes, genetic profiling was illegal.

    But a subtle handshake, sampling from letters (this, I believe was just implied) could be done. Or they could just outright(and legally) ask for a urine sample(under the guise of a drug test)

  • Em

    My point is that just because a law is passed, doesn’t mean it won’t happen (obvious pessimism).

    That point of view is based on my experience of being sexually harrassed in the workplace and my employers telling me it was my fault and it was okay because one person doing the act did it to everyone and the other blatantly lied. It was in the Company’s best interest to find nothing and I was more expendable that the other two.

    I just believe employers and insurance companies will find a way around the law.

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