Florida lawmakers on Thursday approved a new law that would make Florida the nation’s first state to prohibit life, disability and long-term care insurance companies from using genetic tests for coverage purposes.
House Bill 1189, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater, was amended by the Senate and adopted in a 35-3 vote before being kicked back to the House, which approved the measure, 110-0, and sent it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.
Sprowls, the House Speaker-Designate, said the legislation is a “major victory for Floridians” and “will make Florida the leader in the nation in protecting our residents and our citizens’ genetic information.”
Federal law prevents health insurers from using genetic information in underwriting policies and setting premiums, but the prohibition doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage.
Sprowls, a cancer survivor, said he discovered this “massive loophole” and became alarmed about “genetic privacy” after being placed on hold during a phone call to a life insurance company in 2017.
While waiting for assistance, the insurer’s phone system filled the dead air with commercials from DNA-testing companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, he said.
Under HB 1189, insurers would be prohibited from using genetic information to price policies and offerings. The bill blocks companies from requiring or soliciting genetic information from applicants.
The new law would forbid DNA testing companies from providing genetic information to insurers without customer’s permission.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, substituted her companion, Senate Bill 1564, for HB 1189 with an amendment to clarify that insurers could take into consideration diagnoses in customers’ medical records, even those based on genetic information.
Stargel said the measure protects people who use genetic testing kits offered online or through the mail.
“While countless Floridians have used DNA testing kits to learn more about their background or identify potential health risks, they didn’t sign up in order for insurers to access this personal information and then base their policies on it,” she said in a statement. “We are elected to protect Floridians, and this good public policy protects them from insurers invading their private personal DNA data and using it against them.”
The lone dissenters were Sens. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; and Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who is also the state Republican committee chairman.
Brandes has voted down on the measure through its committee hearings because, he said, it would not permit those with “good DNA” to secure better life insurance rates by voluntarily submitting them to insurers.
Brandes’ objection was among those raised by the American Council of Life Insurers in opposing the measure. The trade group said information gleaned from genetic tests could be used to lower insurance premiums.
Among other bills sent to DeSantis’ desk Thursday:
• House Bill 6055: This bill repeals Florida code regulating telegraph companies, which haven’t been changed since 1913 or been of any relevance in decades.
Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, who substituted HB 6055 for his companion, Senate Bill 1256, was asked by chiding senators to explain for school-aged children and middle-aged people what, exactly, telegraphs are.
“Just Google it,” Albritton said. “Next year we’re going after carrier pigeons and Morse code.”
The bill passed unanimously in both chambers.
• House Bill 327: Companion bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Wright, R-Port Orange, and Rep. David Smith, R-Winter Springs, would increase minimum fines from $500 to $750 for taking bear out of season, increase hunting license suspensions for violators from one year to three years and extend the suspension across 47 other states.
Florida has not had a bear season since 2015. The Humane Society of the United States and the Florida Conservation Voters supported the measure.