Win-win: Heath, Labor Advocates Have Something to Celebrate this Weekend

By Reid Maki, NCL staff

Healthcare consumers and child labor advocates are celebrating a shared victory in the U.S. Congress this week. When the House passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act on May 1 — a week after it passed the Senate — advocates for patients with genetic risk factors for many common diseases like diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer breathed a sigh of relief. The bill makes it illegal to discriminate against patients because of information gathered through genetic testing. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny patients insurance or raise their insurance premiums because of their increased risk based on genetics.

An amendment in the bill, authored by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), also added some teeth to the nation’s child labor laws. The amendment gives the Department of Labor the ability to increase fines in cases in which children working on the job are killed or seriously injured.  In labor violations that cause death or serious injury, the penalties would be increased from $11,000 to $50,000. The fines could also be doubled if investigators find that the safety violation was either willful or repeated. The legislative language allows penalties to be assessed for each violation (e.g., if two or more working children are injured in the same accident).

Unfortunately, the bill could have gone a bit further: the language does not make penalties mandatory. And it does not set minimum fines as the language proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would have. In talking about the child labor language last year, Rep. Woolsey said, “There is much that must be done to strengthen our child labor laws.” The new provisions, she added, are “a small beginning.”

President Bush has indicated that he will sign the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act into law when it reaches his desk.

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