NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The controversial Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act is expected to come to a unanimous consent vote in the Senate tomorrow, according to a proponent of the bill, bringing it as close to passage as it has ever come after a decade of languishing in Congress.
GINA is expected to go to the Senate floor tomorrow. “GINA is all set for [unanimous consent] passage in the Senate,” said Genetic Alliance President Sharon Terry in an e-mail today to GenomeWeb Daily News. “We can hardly believe it.”
Genetic Alliance, a non-profit group representing 650 patient support advocacy organizations, has been one of the strongest proponents of the bill and has been working to garner support on Capitol Hill for GINA's passage. In e-mails today anticipating the possible passage of GINA, Terry listed 45 Senators who had sponsored the bill, and a long list of organizations that had expressed support for the legislation's passage.
GINA has been held up in Congress since 1995, when it was first introduced. Last year, for the first time, the House passed the bill (H.R. 493) after 12 years of blocking it from coming to a vote, only to be held up in the Senate by Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
Coburn opposed GINA on a number of grounds. Mainly, he wanted the bill to include a “firewall” separating people’s ability to challenge insurance decisions from their ability to legally dispute their employer’s determinations. He also cited concerns about the definition of “genetic testing” in the bill.
Then in March, in a surprising move, the House passed GINA as part of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 (H.R. 1424), introduced by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D – RI), which would require health insurance companies to offer benefits for mental health and substance-related disorders under group health plans, by a vote of 264 – 148.
Attaching GINA to the mental health bill appeared to invite more detractors to the bill. With the passage of H.R. 1424, a group of 11 senators sent a letter to Democratic leaders in Congress raising “important concerns” about the need to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. Additionally, the senators worried about GINA’s ability to “maintain current law distinctions between employee benefit disputes … and disputes about civil rights in the employment context.”
Some of GINA's other detractors, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Retail Federation, formed the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination in Employment Coalition.
Michael Eastman, executive director of labor policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, previously told GenomeWeb Daily News that his group has concerns similar to those expressed by the 11 senators. He remained optimistic, however, that the group may be appeased with “minor technical fixes” to GINA.
Now that GINA is finally slated to come to a vote in the Senate tomorrow, it seems that the bill's objectors have been appeased. “It appears there is a deal, that the hold has been dropped and ... all systems are go,” Terry said.
It is unclear what the “deal” entailed and whether the bill's language had substantively changed.