Archive for the 'HIPAA' Category

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) Signed Into Law

May 28th, 2008

President Bush signed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 on May 21st.  GINA is designed to protect against discrimination in health insurance and employment based on genetic information.

This new law makes changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code).  The provisions relating to health plans are effective as of May 8, 2009 and those relating to employment are effective November 8, 2009.  Additionally, the law provides that where states have more restrictive protection in place, the state law will continue to apply and employers will need to comply with the state law in addition to GINA.

This law prohibits health plan sponsors and health insurers from restricting enrollment or adjusting premiums based on genetic information.  It also restricts them from requesting or requiring genetic testing.  There are a few limited exceptions to these requirements and genetic information may be used by health plans for payment determinations.  However, the information must be handled in the same manner that other HIPAA-protected information is handled. 

Additionally under GINA, federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) are broadened.  Employers are prohibited from discriminating based on genetic information.  This includes discriminating in hiring, training and retraining, compensation and/or other terms and conditions or employment.  Employers may not segregate or classify employees based on genetic information in any manner that would deprive them of employment opportunities and they may not request, require or purchase genetic information.  Further, employers are prohibited from disclosing personal genetic information.

Under the new law, genetic information includes an individual’s or family member’s genetic tests, diseases and disorders and any request for or receipt of genetic services.   This includes genetic test results and participation in genetic research as well as the manifestation of a particular disease or disorder.  It does not include information such as a person’s gender or age.  However, there are some limited circumstances under which an employer may acquire genetic information. 

The Department of Labor (DOL) has been tasked with issuing final regulations on the health insurance provisions by May 21, 2009.  Additionally, the DOL will enforce the new law and has the authority to assess penalties.

Civil penalties of up to $100 per day per individual for violations may be imposed.  Additionally, if violations are not corrected, a minimum penalty of $2,500 for de minimis violations or $15,000 for material violations may be imposed.  There is a cap on penalties of the lesser of 10% of the amount paid by the plan sponsor during the preceding taxable year or $500,000.  However, under certain circumstances the DOL may waive penalties.

Employers, health plan sponsors and insurers will need to become familiar with the new requirements under the law.  They will need to ensure their practices are compliant with the new requirements and make certain that any genetic information they have about employees is treated with strict confidentiality, as required.  Employers should seek the advice of their benefits counsel to fully understand the law and its impact on their current and future practices and procedures.