GINA, the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act, has been passed by the House and the Senate, and will be signed by the president. Others have explained some of the implications of the bill, but the need for the bill is a grave sign.
GINA is a symptom…a symptom of a diseased health care system. Health insurance works by pooling risk. Ideally, an insurer will take as many people as possible, regardless of their health histories, and the premiums of the healthy will support the care of the unhealthy few. Of course, insurance companies aren’t stupid. They would rather have the healthiest people possible…every penny the don’t spend is profit. That is why a small business, such as mine, will see rates skyrocket if someone gets sick. The risk isn’t being widely pooled, and the cost is being passed on to a few.
GINA isn’t necessary in most of the world (forget for a moment that most of the world doesn’t have money to spend on genetic testing). Most industrialized nations have some sort of universal health care—risk is pooled widely, in fact the pool includes the entire population. There are problems with this, but one of them isn’t discrimination. Under our current system, people are penalized for being sick, poor, or unemployed. It is inefficient and expensive.
Surely we can do better. If we make GINA irrelevant, many of our health care problems will also fade.