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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and others on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, were successful in their bid to secure a commitment to hold a substantive hearing in the near future to explore genetic nondiscrimination in health insurance and employment from committee chairman Senator Ted Kennedy.

Enzi would like to look deeper into the issues of privacy and consistency with existing nondiscrimination laws.

Enzi has been working with Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine., on genetic nondiscrimination legislation. Enzi believes that in order for the bill to succeed it must be consistent with existing employment civil rights and privacy laws.

Enzi's complete statement follows.

Statement by Senator Michael B. Enzi
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Hearing on "Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment"

July 25, 2001

Mr. Chairman. I am here today to show my support for enacting federal legislation which prohibits discrimination in both health insurance and employment on the basis of predictive genetic information. I believe that the promise that such information holds should be free of fears that it will be used to discriminate in health insurance and in the workplace.

On three occasions, the Senate has passed legislation introduced by Senator Snowe which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information with regard to health insurance. This bill was the result of a great deal of time and attention to ensure that the legislation would

effectively address concerns relating to the use of predictive genetic information in health insurance decisions and to ensure that the legislation is consistent with existing federal laws. It specifically addresses the pending medical information privacy regulations, which were issued

under the previous Administration and will be implemented by Secretary Thompson.

Equally important to ensuring the confidentiality and limited use of medical information is how we define these terms. The Snowe bill differs from the Daschle bill on several key definitions. The definitions for "genetic information" and "genetic test" must fairly and appropriately protect medical information, but must also balance and allow, again, for fair and appropriate, underwriting of health insurance products.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that legislation extending genetic nondiscrimination to the employment context has yet been given the similar attention that is necessary. This hearing today, called on short notice, does not afford the opportunity to address, in a truly substantive way, the issues that major new civil rights employment legislation deserves and requires.

As I said, I am committed to federal legislation protecting against discrimination in employment based on predictive genetic information. Such legislation must, however, be consistent with existing federal law relating to privacy and employment nondiscrimination. To do otherwise is to upset the carefully designed balance of interests created by existing employment nondiscrimination statutes and to undermine the process for enforcing and redressing civil rights legislation. Accordingly, I cannot support legislation that is inconsistent with current federal employment nondiscrimination laws.

For this reason, I cannot support S. 318 introduced by Senator Daschle. S. 318 deviates significantly from other civil rights legislation, namely Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, by circumventing the administrative process for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate and enforce complaints of discrimination in the workplace and by disregarding the remedy structure established by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which places a cap on consequential and punitive damages progressive with the size of the employer.

It is difficult to see the justification for allowing claimants of genetic discrimination to file suit directly in court and, thereby, avoid the complaint process that claimants of other basis of employment discrimination must follow. It is also difficult to see the justification for allowing an individual claiming genetic discrimination, but who is un-symptomatic, to be able to recover more compensatory and punitive damages than a claimant of race discrimination or disability discrimination. Yet this is the inequitable result that S. 318 would create.

On a topic as important to the lives of so many people as genetic nondiscrimination in employment is, we have a responsibility to propose legislation that is effective and appropriate. To do so, we must:

  • Ensure that such legislation is consistent with existing federal employment civil rights and privacy laws,
  • Examine state laws on this issue to learn from their successes and shortcomings, and
  • Explore the relationship between workers compensation laws and such legislation.

I look forward to having the opportunity in further hearings to discuss these issues in depth, and, from that to passing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to health insurance as well as employment.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.