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Florida House backs genetic information measure

Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls had little trouble convincing the House to pass a bill Wednesday that would block life-insurance companies from using genetic information in policy decisions, including setting rates. (News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls had little trouble convincing the House to pass a bill Wednesday that would block life-insurance companies from using genetic information in policy decisions, including setting rates.

But Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, is facing a tougher sell in the Senate, where members of an insurance committee this week rewrote the Senate’s version of the bill to be more friendly to the insurance industry.

How the House and Senate bridge the differences in the proposals could be a high-powered affair as lawmakers work through this year’s 60-day legislative session. As he prepares to become speaker after the November elections, Sprowls is one of the most-powerful players in the Capitol.

Sprowls bill (HB 1189), which passed the House in a 117-1 vote, would block insurers from using people’s genetic information in making decisions about premiums, policy cancellations or coverage for life insurance and long-term care insurance. Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, cast the only dissenting vote.

Sprowls and other supporters of the bill have pointed to privacy concerns if insurers use the information. Health insurers already are prevented from using such information, but that does not apply to life insurers and long-term care insurers.

Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, shepherded the Senate version (SB 1568) through the Banking and Insurance Committee this week after revising it to allow insurance companies to use the information if it’s part of a patient’s medical record.

Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, advised Stargel to ensure that as the bill moves through the process that “it is something that reflects both the concerns of the people who are applying for insurance and those who are selling it.”

The Senate version would block life insurers, long-term care insurers and disability insurers from cancelling coverage based solely on genetic information. It also would prevent them from requiring policy applicants to take genetic tests as a condition of “insurability” and from obtaining, requesting or requiring the complete genome sequence of an applicant’s DNA. Sequence data can highlight changes in a gene that may cause diseases.

Curt Leonard, a regional vice president of the American Council of Life Insurers, said Sprowls’ proposal could “disrupt the insurance market and raise prices on consumers” but that insurers support the intent to protect consumers from the improper use of genetic information.

Leonard maintained the Senate bill accomplishes that.

“We think it’s a reasonable compromise, and it’s encouraging because it provides for additional consumer protection,” Leonard told The News Service of Florida.

Sprowls, a cancer survivor, said he discovered the issue in December 2017 when he was applying for life insurance. While he was on hold on the telephone waiting for assistance, he said he was struck by commercials from companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA encouraging people to buy genetic tests.

Sprowls dismissed the industry’s argument that the ban on using the information could be disruptive, as the companies don’t use the information today in pricing plans.

But he withheld further comment on the Senate proposal, saying it was too early in the process to weigh in.

“The Senate is working through the process in their chamber and they will come to their own conclusions about what values they think matter the most,” Sprowls said in a statement to the News Service. “It is premature to comment on a bill until the Senate passes a final version. At that point, we will talk through our differences (if any) and try to arrive at a final product that provides a just result for the people of Florida.”


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