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  • Writer's pictureThomas Piccolo

Insurers could face new limits in Florida on use of genetic information

Legislation would bar Florida insurers from using genetic testing to determine life, long-term care or disability coverage.

TALLAHASSEE – Insurance companies would be barred in Florida from using genetic information now widely available through such popular services as 23andMe and Ancestry,under legislation filed Thursday by a leading House Republican.

House Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said the ban is needed as a consumer protection, safeguarding both privacy and access to life, long-term care and disability insurance.

Federal law already prohibits health insurers from using a client’s genetic information to set rates or decide whether to sell a policy.

“It’s kind of a new frontier of privacy,” Sprowls said. “As more genetic tests are done, you want to make sure that we protect them from having that information used inappropriately in a life or disability insurance situation.”

Sprowls’ bill (HB 1189) is being filed in the state Senate by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, as SB 1564. The 2020 legislative session begins Tuesday.

Similar legislation cleared the state House each of the past two years, only to stall in the Senate. But having the measure now carried by Sprowls, in line to become House speaker following the November election, gives the proposal added heft.

“It’s a massive loophole that I think the average person doesn’t know exists,” Sprowls said of the use of genetic profiles to evaluate customers for some types of insurance.

During testimony before legislative committees last year, insurance industry lobbyists said companies don’t typically buy or seek access to personal genetic tests, arguing that coverage decisions aren’t made on such a micro-scale.

Insurers oppose the legislation, though, as another regulation that could disrupt the insurance market in Florida.

While several states have moved ahead and prohibited insurers from declining life, long-term, or disability coverage based on genetic testing, many others are just like Florida. Still, Florida is among only a handful of states that explicitly define genetic information as personal property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But with estimates that more than 26 million people have shared their DNA with leading ancestry and health databases, privacy concerns are mounting. The Pentagon in December warned members of the military not to use consumer DNA kits, saying that information collected by private companies could prove a security risk.

Sprowls is a former prosecutor who said he sees the benefits of appropriate data collection. Two years ago he shepherded through the Legislature creation of a uniform database containing information on arrest, bail proceedings and criminal sentencing that is searchable by the public through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.

The data collection followed two years of reporting by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on racial bias in criminal sentencing that resulted in two series: “Bias on the Bench,” published in December 2016 and “One War. Two Races,” published in 2017.

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