The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in May 2008 after 13 years of debate. Title I of GINA prohibits health insurers from using genetic information to deny coverage or to set premiums or payment rates. Title II prohibits employers from requesting genetic information or using genetic information in hiring, firing and other employment-related decisions. This page aggregates all of the Genomics Law Report’s GINA coverage, including the Act’s implementation by regulatory agencies, courts and businesses.
The movement to confer greater legal protection to individuals’ genetic information has added another participant. Last month, we examined newly introduced legislation in Massachusetts which, if passed, would create a “Genetic Bill of Rights,” significantly expanding Massachusetts residents’ personal property and privacy rights in their genetic information. Since then, in what the Council for Responsible Genetics has termed a “groundswell for genetic privacy building in states,” state legislators in both California and Vermont have introduced new legislation that would confer greater protection upon individuals’ genetic information.
What should we make of this three state “groundswell?” Although not identical in scope or substance to the Massachusetts Genetic Bill of Rights (“MA GBR”), both the Vermont and California proposals appear to reflect a concern (shared by the MA GBR) that, at least when it comes to the use and misuse of genetic information, the current system of federal oversight is inadequate. Then again, as the legislative findings section of the California proposal (pdf) puts it, perhaps “the current explosion in the science of genetics” simply “compels legislative action in this area.”
On January 21, 2011, the Massachusetts Genetic Bill of Rights (MA GBR) (pdf) was introduced before the Massachusetts state legislature. At its core, the proposed legislation establishes property and privacy rights for genetic information and genetic material, while providing protections designed to shield individuals from genetic profiling and other misuses of genetic information.
Taken as a whole, the legislation, if enacted, would confer upon Massachusetts residents a significantly expanded set of genetic rights than exist under current federal law. Below we examine several of the bill’s most noteworthy proposals.
The MA GBR addresses perceived gaps and limitations in the coverage provided by major federal statutes, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by seeking to place genetic information on a par with medical records.
The MA GBR’s provisions set basic limitations on the use, including the commercial use, of personal genetic information that would go above and beyond the user agreements and privacy policies employed by some commercial services. For example, the MA GBR prohibits the use of genetic information for marketing or determining credit worthiness. With the proliferation of genetic information, particularly in consumer or commercial contexts, such basic limitations would help address concerns about the lack of mandatory restrictions regarding the sale, transfer or other use of personal genetic data.
The Personal Property Theory of Personal Genomes. But the MA GBR goes much further than mere consumer protection reforms. Section 1 of the proposed legislation explicitly declares genetic information to be “the exclusive property of the individual from whom the information is obtained.” (emphasis added)
Last January we kicked off the new year by posing “Five Questions for Personal Genomics in 2010.” Here were the five questions we asked:
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype?
2. Will personal genomics stay DTC?
3. How will the ongoing gene patent debate affect the progress of personalized medicine?
4. When and where will the next regulatory shoe fall?
5. Who will control the data?
A year later the question that comes first to mind is, has anything really changed?
The short answer is no, not fundamentally, although that is not meant to imply that nothing of note happened in 2010. Far from it, as significant legal, regulatory, policy and technological developments continued to reshape the personal genomics landscape.
With that in mind, we welcome 2011 with a look back at the year that was, and a look ahead at what to expect from 2011 and beyond.
In 2008 Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Although GINA is arguably “the first civil rights bill of the 21st century,” we have consistently reminded Genomics Law Report readers that passing GINA into law was only the first step.
As is the case with any piece of new legislation, even after a law is passed, considerable work remains to implement that law in practice. GINA is no different. Congress provided a basic framework designed to eliminate genetic discrimination, but many of the details of the law were left to regulatory agencies.
Two and a half years after GINA’s passage, the first part of that process is still underway. Last month the EEOC issued final rules and regulations implementing Title II of Gina, which applies to employers. (Final regulations for Title I of GINA, which applies to health insurers, have yet to be issued.) With the long-awaited arrival of the EEOC’s final regulations, the next step is to begin to apply those regulations.
MLB’s Genetic Testing Program. In July of 2009 The New York Times reported that Major League Baseball (MLB) had begun using genetic testing to verify the age and identity of Latin American baseball prospects. We analyzed MLB’s genetic testing program and the potential legal concerns raised by GINA in a pair of posts: “MLB Meets GINA” and “MLB’s Genetic Testing Program at the Plate Again.”
The top news story the past two weeks: the release of hundreds of thousands of confidential American diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. While dissecting diplomatic maneuvering is not a traditional area of expertise for the Genomics Law Report, a pair of cables did catch our eye.
The first is primarily a curiosity: the allegation that Chinese authorities are spying on deCode Genetics, Iceland’s most prominent genetic research company and provider of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing service, deCODEme. Nobody seems to know exactly what China is looking to gain by clandestinely exploring Iceland’s genetic genealogy. You are welcome to speculate in the comments.
The second raises broader issues: the revelation that the State Department’s ongoing human intelligence collection directives include requests for “biometric information” on key world leaders, including United Nations arms inspectors, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and key advisors and aides to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A separate cable detailing intelligence collection priorities in Africa’s Great Lakes region clarifies that “biometric information” includes “health [data]…fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”
Not disclosed in the WikiLeaked cables: why the State Department wants the biometric data or whether any have been successfully obtained.
Surreptitious Testing: An Overview. The cables are, however, a reminder that the law surrounding the surreptitious collection and testing of biometric data, including DNA, remains extremely murky.
As we wrote yesterday, last week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued definitive rules and regulations (pdf) with respect to Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). In our previous post we offered a brief overview of the new regulations, as well as some preliminary suggestions for employers just now coming to grips with GINA.
We also promised to take a closer look in today’s post at several substantive features of the EEOC’s new regulations.
Defining the Terms. The EEOC, the government agency generally responsible for enforcing federal employment nondiscrimination laws, was the logical choice to promulgate regulations under GINA’s Title II, which governs the use of genetic information by employers and similar entities. But not all of GINA’s statutory provisions were within the EEOC’s area of expertise.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued its final rules and regulations implementing the employment provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). Signed into law in 2008, GINA took effect in two stages in 2009, with Title I (which applies to health insurers and plans) effective in May and Title II (which applies to employers) effective in November.
When GINA was passed, Congress instructed the EEOC to issue final rules and regulations no later than May of 2009 describing how the agency intends to interpret and enforce the legislation. Although the EEOC missed that deadline by a full 18 months, the Commission did issue definitive rules and regulations (pdf) for Title II of GINA last week. (In its defense, the departments responsible for the Title I – Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury – have yet to issue final regulations of their own.) The regulations take effect January 10, 2011.
Reintroducing GINA. Last November, we reported that Title II of GINA had joined ranks with the other federal antidiscrimination laws (the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to name a few), to provide federal protection against workplace discrimination, in this case on the basis of genetic information. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in the employment context, and also restricts employers from acquiring or disclosing genetic information.
Recently the Genomics Law Report discussed a legal action brought by an employee alleging she was dismissed from her job when her employer learned of her genetic test results. The claim is that the employer’s action was in violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and is the first publicly reported action of its kind. As GINA, which was enacted in 2008 and is still being implemented by regulatory agencies, becomes an established part of the legal landscape, more claims are bound to follow. The following article discusses a hypothetical set of facts that raise questions for an employer under GINA as well as other employment laws.
Another Monday morning, another administrative headache. Your marketing VP has taken fifteen minutes complaining – again – about Julie. In short, her performance has been in the tank for weeks. She’s missed numerous internal meetings and deadlines, and customer feedback has gone from highly favorable to “please send someone else next time, if there is a next time.”
In what appears to be the first publicly identified case of its kind, a Connecticut woman has accused her employer of violating the recently enacted federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). According to a story in the Boston Herald (discovered thanks to a tip from Matt Mealiffe), 39-year-old Pamela Fink received an elective double mastectomy last year after testing positive for mutations in her BRCA2 gene associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Fink alleges that, despite giving her “glowing evaluations for years,” her employer, MXenergy, “targeted, demoted and eventually dismissed her when she told them of the genetic test results.”
GINA, which was passed by Congress in 2008 and took effect last year, represents the most comprehensive effort to date to regulate the use of genetic information by employers (Title II) and health care insurers (Title I). Under Section 201(a)(i) of GINA, employers with more than 15 employees may not “discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment…because of genetic information.”
Recent advances in genetic science are remarkable. In 2003 the first full human genome was sequenced after 13 years of work at a cost of over $3 billion. Today, the cost to sequence any individual’s entire genome is approaching $1,000. Genetic tests for specific genes linked to cancer and other diseases exist today and many more are being developed. We hear of a new era of “personalized medicine” in which drugs and therapies will be prescribed based on the individual patient’s specific genes.
All of this may seem to have little direct relevance to companies outside of biotechnology. However, the development of genetic knowledge and technology already has spawned new laws, regulations and patent uncertainties that impact almost all businesses in some way.
Privacy and Nondiscrimination. The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) represents the most comprehensive effort to date to regulate the use of genetic information. GINA initially only prohibited health insurers and group health plans from using genetic information to deny coverage or set payment rates. Another section, which just became effective in November 2009, affects all private and public employers with more than 15 employees.