ANNAPOLIS – Representatives of the health insurance industry turned out Thursday to oppose a Senate bill that would prevent them from using genetic information to set premiums.
The bill, discussed Thursday in the Finance Committee, would apply to health insurers, but not life insurers, said Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, the lead sponsor.
Forehand introduced a similar, but more comprehensive bill last year, but it died in committee.
Disclosure of genetic test results to insurance companies is one of many ethical debates surrounding the development of the Human Genome Project. The undertaking, a collaboration of numerous government, academic and industry groups, has sought to map human DNA. A major byproduct of the study is the identification of genes expressing a predisposition for certain diseases.
The Maryland Insurance Code already specifies that insurers may not discriminate against people who carry the genes for several diseases, including sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs, a neurological condition.
While recognizing that these tests are not yet in wide use, Forehand said insurers currently may raise rates or retract coverage for a predisposition to a condition the patient may well not acquire.
“Just because you have the gene doesn’t mean you’re going to get the disease,” Forehand said.
Supporting the measure were physician groups and technology companies.
In a letter to Forehand, Donald Wilson, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, expressed concern that the fear of retribution may prevent many patients from undergoing potentially life-saving tests. In addition, he argued that avoiding such tests may have the domino effect of keeping relatives uninformed of their own genetic predispositions to disease.
But some insurers at the hearing objected completely to the bill, calling it an invasive regulation. Others suggested that the legislation required further study.
“This bill goes dramatically too far,” said Deborah Rivkin, a lobbyist for the League of Life and Health Insurers of America.
No one has been denied coverage based on genetic tests, said Marta Harting, a lobbyist for the Health Insurance Association of America, whose opposition was among the most vehement. Calling the potential danger for insurance company use of test results a “theoretical possibility,” she said legislation should be delayed until hard evidence arises.
Harting and others from the industry also argued that in the future, genetic test results may be as relevant in setting individuals’ rates as a history of high blood pressure.
Science and technology may advance to where a 100 percent chance of acquiring a disease can be determined from genetic testing, said Gregory Hardy of the American Council of Life Insurance.
Some lobbyists expressed dismay that they were not invited to talks Forehand convened last summer to devise a bill.
“Regrettably, the insurance industry was not involved in this round of discussions this summer,” said Fran Tracy, testifying on behalf of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland. -30-