The Senate has passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). You can hear NPR's take in their story Senate OKs Bill Outlawing Genetic Discrimination. It seems Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was satisfied with recent changes and therefore no longer felt the need to single-handedly hold up the passage of the bill which had overwhelming bipartisan support. The House is expected to take up and pass the bill next week. President Bush has said he will sign it into law.

This bill, when it becomes law, will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals based on the results of genetic tests or because of a family history of genetic disease (it also prevents employers from discriminating based on genetic information). This will greatly improve the current climate for genetic testing and genomic research as individuals will no longer need to fear that if they have a genetic test performed or participate in DNA sequencing research that the findings will prevent them from getting insurance in the future. The New York Times has a story about GINA written before the measure passed: Congress Near Deal on Genetic Test Bias Bill.

The Slashdot story has an interesting comment, "If I know I'm likely to get a certain condition, I'll stock up on 'insurance' for it." I am not sure how the submitter obtains his insurance, but health insurance is not really an a la carte system. You don't buy insurance for specific maladies. You get health insurance or you don't. You don't get separate insurance policies to cover cancer, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, etc. The submitter uses his flawed logic to predict the fall of private insurance. Apparently the purchase of health insurance is not the only thing he does not really understand. The health insurance companies in the U.S. are very entrenched and this bill does not really affect them much. Genetic testing has not been widely applied in diagnostic medicine (in part because this bill did not exist) so the insurance companies did not really use it when assessing policy risk. If anything, this bill might be a net plus for the health insurance industry: if people are free to have genetic testing done without fear of losing insurance, potential health risks can more readily be assessed and early treatment/lifestyle changes can be started to mitigate the increased risks. Let the age of personalized medicine begin.

Update: here is a story featuring geneticists' reactions to the bill's passage.