Bush OKs bill on genetic bias

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President Bush yesterday signed a bill barring insurance companies and employers from discriminating based on a person’s genetic information, and also announced a shift in policy toward Cuba he said is designed to test its new dictator.

Mr. Bush said the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) “protects our citizens from having genetic information misused … without undermining the basic premise of the insurance industry.”

The nondiscrimination act will bar insurance companies from raising rates for persons with genetic predispositions to certain diseases, and will block employers from making hiring or firing decisions based on such information.

“This is a tremendous victory for every American not born with perfect genes, which means it’s a victory for every single one us,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat.

“Since all of us are predisposed to at least a few genetic-based disorders, we are all potential victims of genetic discrimination,” she said.

Prior to signing GINA, the president paid tribute to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who was diagnosed this week with a malignant brain tumor and has long championed the measure.

“All of us are so pleased that Senator Kennedy has gone home, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family,” Mr. Bush said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush announced that the U.S. will now allow citizens to send cell phones to family members in Cuba, which the administration characterized as a change to existing regulations but not a loosening of its embargo against trade with and travel to the communist island.

Mr. Bush said the new policy is intended to test the sincerity of Cuban dictator Raul Castro’s promises to make Cuba more democratic and free.

“If Raul is serious about his so-called reforms, he will allow these phones to reach the Cuban people,” Mr. Bush said, during remarks in the East Room to a gathering that included relatives of Cuban dissidents currently imprisoned by the Castro government.

Mr. Bush said that the U.S. policy change will test Mr. Castro’s intent to allow Cubans to own cell phones, computers and DVD players.

“The world is watching the Cuban regime. If it follows its recent public gestures by opening up access to information, and implementing meaningful economic reform, respecting political freedom and human rights, then it can credibly say it has delivered the beginnings of change,” Mr. Bush said.

But Mr. Bush said he doubted that Mr. Castro truly intends to democratize his country.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said they expect Americans to “purchase cell phones and services in the United States, ship the phone to Cuba, but continue to pay the bill.”

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