Genetic testing through companies such as 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com provide people inexpensive and often illuminating access to their DNA and family histories.
At the same time, the increasing popularity of genetic testing kits is fostering fears about how the data is used, who “owns” it and raising questions about how to balance access with privacy.
In 2019, Florida lawmakers pondered bills to prohibit life insurers from denying policy coverage based on genetic tests and from requiring DNA tests. All stalled.
Companion 2020 House-Senate bills seek to prohibit life, disability and long-term care insurers from canceling, limiting, denying coverage, or charging more for Floridians based on genetic information.
House Bill 1189, filed by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor – who will succeed Jose Oliva as House Speaker in 2021 – passed the Health & Human Services Committee, 17-0.
HB 1189 now goes before the House Commerce Committee, it’s final stop before a floor voter. As of Monday, the panel had not scheduled its next meeting.
Its Senate companion, Senate Bill 1564, was filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. SB 1564’s first stop is the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee. It also faces hearings before theJudiciary and Rules committees.
The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee meets Tuesday but, as of Monday afternoon, SB 1564 was not on the agenda.
During HB 1189’s Thursday Health & Human Services Committee hearing, Sprowls said adopting the measure is among his top 2020 priorities and would make Florida the first to adopt such a genetic privacy law.
“There’s nothing greater for our privacy than our genetic code,” Sprowls said. “Handing that over to large insurance companies is bad public policy.”
Life insurers are aggressively seeking access to people’s genetic information, he said. “Insurance is about spreading risk, not guaranteeing the outcomes or rewards to the characters.
Affordable life, disability and health insurance should not be available simply to the genetic elite.”
“I’m glad Florida’s going to be the state that leads the way on this issue,” committee chair Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said.
The bills are endorsed by the Florida Association of Genetic Counselors, the AARP and Protecting Our DNA, an advocacy group financed by Floridians for Economic Freedom, a political committee chaired by Sprowls, which previewed a minute-long television ad during the hearing.
“Jane thinks her DNA is private, but it’s not,” the narrator states. “Insurance companies want to invade Jane’s privacy and get a look at her genetic code. Why? The more they know about Jane, the more they can profit off her DNA. Raising her rates, reducing their risk, padding their profits.”
The bills are opposed by the Florida Insurance Council (FIC), the American Council of Life Insurers and the James Madison Institute, who argue they will allow customers to hide important information to secure lower rates than those they should pay.
During November’s Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Summit, FIC President Cecil Pearce compared the use of genetic data in insurance rates to the way auto insurance rates are calculated.
Drivers with clean records are in one pool while those with traffic tickets and offenses are in another, making it “fair” for “good” drivers not forced to subsidize “bad” drivers.
“Imagine,” he said, “if insurers didn’t have access to driving histories” to distinguish between “good” and “bad” drivers.
James Madison Institute Vice President Sal Nuzzo said an outright ban on using genetic test data could have unforeseen circumstances.
If such a ban were adopted, he predicted, insurance salesmen nationwide would be advising clients to “take a weeklong vacation in Florida and buy a $1 million life insurance policy while you’re there.”
The Center Square