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What is genetic discrimination?

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Genetic discrimination occurs when people are treated differently by their employer or insurance company because they have a gene mutation that causes or increases the risk of an inherited disorder. Fear of discrimination is a common concern among people considering genetic testing.

Several laws at the federal and state levels help protect people against genetic discrimination. In particular, a federal law called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) is designed to protect people from this form of discrimination.

GINA has two parts: Title I, which prohibits genetic discrimination in health insurance, and Title II, which prohibits genetic discrimination in employment. Title I makes it illegal for health insurance providers to use or require genetic information to make decisions about a person’s insurance eligibility or coverage. This part of the law went into effect on May 21, 2009. Title II makes it illegal for employers to use a person’s genetic information when making decisions about hiring, promotion, and several other terms of employment. This part of the law went into effect on November 21, 2009.

GINA and other laws do not protect people from genetic discrimination in every circumstance. For example, GINA does not apply when an employer has fewer than 15 employees. It does not cover people in the U.S. military or those receiving health benefits through the Veterans Health Administration or Indian Health Service. GINA also does not protect against genetic discrimination in forms of insurance other than health insurance, such as life, disability, or long-term care insurance.

For more information about genetic discrimination and GINA:

The National Human Genome Research Institute provides a detailed discussion of genetic discrimination and current laws that address this issue:

The Genetic Alliance offers links to resources and policy statements on genetic discriminationThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference..

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s exhibit ‘Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code’ discusses GINA’s implementationThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference..

More detailed information about GINA is available from these resources

The U.S Department of Energy Human Genome Project highlights major pieces of genetics legislationThis link leads to a site outside Genetics Home Reference., including sections on federal policy history, state policy history, and how federal anti-discrimination laws before GINA apply to genetics.

Next: Can genes be patented?

Published: February 8, 2016