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Genetic information proposal ready for Senate vote

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate is continuing to move a high-priority bill for House Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls that would ban life- and long-term care insurance companies from using genetic information to set policy rates.

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday approved the proposal (SB 1564) with a 16-1 vote.

The measure, ready for a full vote by the Senate, differs from a companion bill (HB 1189) approved by the House late last month. The Senate plan clarifies that life insurers can access an applicant’s medical record as part of an application exam. The Senate bill, moreover, makes clear that life insurers can consider a medical diagnosis, if it is included in a medical record.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who cast the lone vote against the measure Wednesday, said after the committee meeting that he worries Florida companies that have to follow the law will attract adverse risk. Out-of-state companies that are permitted to use the information may attract healthier people who are willing to share their genetic information with insurers in exchange for lower rates, Brandes said.

“It creates a perverse incentive both ways. You are going to have jurisdictional shopping, based on your genetic information,” he said.

Sprowls, sponsor of the House bill, said last week that he was comfortable with the Senate’s version of the bill.

“It’s essentially our bill with one caveat,” Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told The News Service of Florida last week, referring to the medical-diagnosis provision. “If you get a diagnosis, nobody would prevent a life- or disability-insurance carrier from having that information. Where I draw the line is getting access to the raw genetic information.”

Federal law already prevents health insurers from using genetic information in underwriting policies and in setting premiums. But the prohibition doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage, which Sprowls described as a “massive loophole.”

Sprowls, a cancer survivor who will take over as House speaker following the November elections, 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.