Today the Senate is celebrating passing (by a 95-0 vote) the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The bill, which President Bush supports and is expected to quickly pass in the House, would make it a crime for health insurers and employers to discriminate based upon genetic tests showing an individual is susceptible to a particular disease or condition. Sen. Ted Kennedy hailed the legislation yesterday as "the first major new civil rights bill of the new century."
Indeed, after failing to pass the Equal Pay Act earlier this week, GINDA is a real accomplishment. No one deserves to have their insurance premiums raised, or to be denied coverage, because they carry the breast cancer gene, or because they are genetically susceptible to illnesses that can be aggravated by work, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. But the bill makes absolutely certain to preserve insurers’ rights to discriminate once those diseases have actually presented themselves. In other words, discriminating on the basis of a "pre-existing condition" continues to be perfectly fine, even though discriminating on the basis of genetic susceptibility to a condition will likely soon be against the law.
As an ideology undergirding our health care system, you can see how this is inconsistent. Either human beings deserve affordable medical care regardless of the diseases they have, or they don’t. The sad truth is, protecting the basic for-profit nature of American health care (read: the right of insurers to deny coverage) is what’s needed to attract Republican Congressional support to any reform bill. And that’s why, despite Ezra‘s protestations, I’m inclined to woefully nod in agreement when Congressional Democrats throw water on hopes for universal health care in 2009.
cross-posted at TAPPED