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What GINA Misses

Federal law may protect people from getting fired from their jobs or getting turned away by health insurers because of their genetic makeup, but when it comes to other types of insurance, it may offer no protection at all, NPR's Shots Blog reports.

Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, an employer cannot fire someone because it doesn't like something in the employee's genes. Similarly, health insurers cannot deny coverage for genetic causes.

But, NPR says, the legislation does not prohibit long-term care insurers, life insurance companies, or disability insurance providers from using genetic data to reject someone seeking a policy. In fact, a long-term care insurer could legally require someone to get genetically tested before selling the person a policy to determine whether the customer is genetically predisposed to something like Alzheimer's disease.

The issue for such firms is that if a large proportion, or all, of its customers sign on for policies because they've discovered that they are genetically wired so that they are susceptible to debilitating and expensive-to-manage diseases, it could bankrupt the companies.

The insurers make a profit only by having a large pool of healthy customers to essentially subsidize a few customers who need expensive care and services.

Robert Green, a researcher in the genetics department of Harvard Medical School, conducted a study about how people reacted after they discovered they have a gene associated with Alzheimer's and found they are five times more likely than the average person to buy long-term insurance.

When he spoke to a roomful of insurance executives a few years ago about the work, "[t]hese very mild-mannered people in the audience got very, very heated," Green tells NPR. "They were standing up and saying, 'This kind of situation is going to put us out of business."

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who introduced GINA in Congress in 2007, tells NPR that she will to introduce legislation to close loopholes in the legislation.

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