New Genetic Testing Bill: Potential for Progress or Potential for Discrimination?

According to a recent article published in The Atlantic, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently approved H.R. 1313, a bill that would allow employers to pressure their employees to undergo genetic testing and share the results as part of an employer’s “workplace wellness program.” If an employee opts not to share the results, he or she could be forced to pay significantly more for health insurance.

Proponents of the bill note that it simply builds on programs already in place from the Affordable Care Act; however, critics are worried that the bill will take away many of the privacy, discrimination and insurance protections of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”).

From The Atlantic, “The GOP’s New Bill Would Seriously Disrupt Genetics Research”

Excerpt from article:

“‘People are already being discriminated genetically without mandatory genetic testing—that’s what sexism and racism is . . . . This [bill] would result in a higher resolution of discrimination and more individualized ways of targeting people.’ The dark mirror of personalized medicine is personalized discrimination.”

Read Full Article

 

Congress Looks to Revamp Mental Health System

Soon, Congress will hear testimony concerning the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Republican representative, Tim Murphy, from Pennsylvania, sponsored the bill, and, though many agree that the mental health care system requires revamping, some provisions in the bill have sparked controversy. Among the more controversial provisions is one that supports the increased use of involuntary outpatient treatment—via court-ordered therapy for “certain mentally ill people with a history of legal or other problems.” Detractors of this provision claim that it will erode trust in doctor-patient relationships, and that it presents a civil rights issue. However, 45 states have compelled treatment programs already, one of which is New York.

New York’s compelled treatment program, Kendra’s Law, was passed in 1999. Since the implementation of Kendra’s Law, studies show that the percentage of patients returning to the hospital or getting arrested has greatly decreased. The statistic is significant, as “about 350,000 Americans with a diagnosis of severe mental illness…are in state jails and prisons” and the availability of psychiatric beds meets only 10 percent of that need. 

Read more here.

Potentially Dangerous Precedent Possible in Mississippi

Anti-fetal homicide laws were enacted originally to protect mothers of unborn children against violent acts. Yet, in reality, “they’ve led to disproportionate prosecution against African American women who suffer miscarriages.” An ongoing case in Mississippi could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the criminalization of pregnant women for their purportedly reckless acts.  Rennie Gibbs was charged with the murder of her unborn child after it was stillborn when she was 16 years old. Gibbs is being prosecuted for “depraved heart murder” because the autopsy showed that Gibbs had used cocaine during her pregnancy—but the cause of death was originally attributed to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck. That cause of death was never ruled out.

Read more here and here.

Iowa Reconsiders HIV-Specific Laws; Growing National Trend

In 1990, Congress approved the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The CARE Act funds support and medical treatment for individuals with HIV. However, under the Act every state had to certify that it had criminal laws that would prosecute individuals with HIV who knowingly exposed others to the disease, even if those exposed did not contract HIV. Individuals who are successfully prosecuted under these laws are listed as sex offenders. In one case in Iowa, a woman was prosecuted successfully even though she claimed that she informed the man that she was HIV positive. He claimed she did not tell him; however, two weeks prior to filing his complaint against her, he was convicted of domestic abuse for hitting her. She is now listed as a sex offender.

Currently, the federal government and advocates consider these HIV-specific laws to be draconian in light of modern scientific knowledge regarding HIV, which is “no longer the death sentence it once was.” Many of these HIV-specific laws do not require exposure in the form of sexual contact, and some even include exposure in the form of something as innocuous as spitting. HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. Some states, including Iowa, are reconsidering and changing their HIV-specific laws in response to this change in public opinion.

Read more here.

D.C. Instructs Insurance Companies to Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery

Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington D.C. announced that D.C. will now require insurance companies to provide full coverage to transgender residents, which includes gender reassignment surgery. The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking stated its official position that treatment and gender reassignment surgery for gender dysphoria are covered benefits. The Mayor stated that transgender people should not be required to pay extensive out-of-pocket fees for treatment.

Read more here.

Health Care Debate in Florida Veers Off the Beaten Path

Florida is one of the twenty-four states that declined to expand their Medicaid programs.  As a result, approximately 760,000 Florida residents who would qualify for Medicaid under an expanded Medicaid program do not qualify so qualify. In addition, these residents do not qualify for federal subsidies to help them purchase health insurance. Recently, some Florida legislators honed in on an obscure provision in the Affordable Care Act, which allows low-income documented immigrants to qualify for federal subsidies in order to buy health insurance. The legislators intend to publicize this information in an effort to get the Medicaid expansion approved during the next legislative session. Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah stated that the issue is one of “fairness,” and not immigration.

Read more here.

Rhode Island Task Force Responds to Newtown Tragedy

The Joint Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force of Rhode Island approved a final report for submission to the General Assembly, which concerns how Rhode Island should submit mental-health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Ultimately, the Task Force recommends that Rhode Island submit only the names of patients committed involuntarily because a judge deemed them a danger to themselves or others. Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, believes that the Task Force’s determination strikes the correct balance between: the right to privacy; public safety; and, “the recognition of mental health as an illness and not as a stigma.”

Read more here.

Supreme Court to Address Standards for Intellectual Competence

The Supreme Court of the United States barred the execution of intellectually disabled individuals in 2002. Soon the Court will address the standard that a State should use to determine whether an individual is intellectually disabled. There are ten states that use IQ scores to assess the intellectual competence of convicts, including Florida. Typically, in these states, a person with an IQ of 70 or higher is considered intellectually competent. Some psychologists maintain that using such a bright-line standard is scientifically outdated, and that IQ tests are not precise enough to make such a determination. The Court will hear arguments on the issue in Hall v. Florida, on March 3, 2014.

Read more here.

Montreal Hospitals Required to Suggest that Off-Island Patients Get Treated “Closer to Their Homes”

Montreal’s Health and Social Service Agency requires doctors to “inform off-island patients about treatments available closer to their homes.” Montreal patients, off-island or otherwise, have the right to be treated wherever they wish. However, the agency claims that, by suggesting that off-island patients be treated closer to their homes, the policy conserves the resources of Montreal’s hospitals. Some claim that the policy may confuse patients, and may even discriminate against patients who travel in order to receive specialized care.

Read more here.

Philadelphia Police Department Directed to Respect Transgender Population

The Philadelphia Police Department implemented an “unprecedented” policy change last December.  Directive 152 is intended to guide police officers’ interactions with transgender Philadelphians. Local activists state that Philadelphia police were often antagonistic and discriminatory when interacting with transgender individuals. Directive 152 seeks to address this problem by advising officers to use the proper pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. For example, the Directive indicates that in the event of a transgender individuals’ death, officers should “use pronouns and titles of respect appropriate to the individual’s gender identity as expressed by the individual.” In addition, the Directive addresses more difficult issues, such as housing and processing for transgender inmates; officers are to separate transgender inmates from the general population in separate holding cells in order to protect them from physical and sexual abuse.

Read more here.