Hospitals

Ohio would require genetic counseling licenses under proposed law

A genetic counselor be required to obtain licenses to work in Ohio under a recently introduced proposal in the state’s House of Representatives. The role of a generic counselor includes assessing the risk of a genetic disorder by researching a family’s medical history, helping people weigh their options around genetic testing, and helping interpret the […]

A genetic counselor be required to obtain licenses to work in Ohio under a recently introduced proposal in the state’s House of Representatives.

The role of a generic counselor includes assessing the risk of a genetic disorder by researching a family’s medical history, helping people weigh their options around genetic testing, and helping interpret the results of genetic testing. The tests can be used to tell whether people are genetically predisposed to inheritable diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The genetic counseling bill would set up a few requirements counselors would have to fulfill to obtain licenses to practice in Ohio. Those include: attaining a graduate degree from a genetics program accredited by American Board of Genetic Counseling, obtaining certification from the same board, and being at least 18 years of age and “of good moral character,” according to the text of House Bill 292.

Most of the administrative work surrounding licensing of genetic counselors would fall to the State Medical Board of Ohio, which handles licensing of other health professionals.

Genetic testing has received increased attention in recent years as offers for mail-order genetic test kits have proliferated. Major players in the mail-order market include 23andMe, Navigenics and deCODEme. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report found that the companies’ tests were misleading to consumers by providing unclear or conflicting information on the risk of disease.

Rep. Anne Gonazales, R-Westerville, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation isn’t intended to affect mail-order genetic testing. However, the bill’s substance is likely to change as its winds its way through the legislative process, she said. “I can probably guarantee you there will be some changes to the bill,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Gonzales said official from Ohio State University Medical Center‘s (OSUMC) cancer hospital played a key role in crafting the legislation. OSUMC employs 12 genetic counselors, according to Jen Carlson, assistant vice president for advocacy and outreach.

“Genetic counselors are wrapped around everything we do in the cancer program at Ohio State,” Carlson said.

OSUMC’s research has indicated that there are 124 genetic counselors working in Ohio, Carlson said.

The need to license genetic counselors became apparent to OSUMC officials when the cancer hospital began seeing patients who’d been misdiagnosed based on the results of genetic tests, Carlson said. Those types of misdiagnoses can lead to a host of problems including patients receiving unnecessary and expensive medical treatments, or missing out on potentially life-saving treatments and screening tests. Misreading genetic tests can also lead to women making irreversible decisions about pregnancy and child-bearing, Carlson said.

Thirteen states require licensure of genetic counselors, and 18 more are working on legislation that would do so, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, which supports the legislation.

“Licensure protects the public by ensuring the individual who is providing genetic counselor services is qualified to do so,” said John Richardson, the group’s director of policy and government relations. “In the absence of licensure, anyone is able to provide these services and identify themselves as a genetic counselor.”

The bill has been assigned to the House’s Health and Aging Committee, Gonzales said. No hearing are expected until after Ohio lawmakers return in September from a recess.

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