There were no high-fives or pats on the back, but the House Health and Welfare took great care Thursday to congratulate itself for passing a bill to license genetic counselors.
“I’m very excited about where health care is going” said Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa. “We’ve made great strides in this committee this year.”
Panel Chair Fred Wood, R-Burley, lauded Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, for bravery in the face of, well, new government regulations and red tape.
“The most courageous person on this committee is Rep. Redman,” Wood said just before the panel unanimously passed the bill.
It’s just one of numerous bills passed by the panel that will place new government barriers on the market for Idahoans. The panel has also passed legislation requiring licenses for sign language interpreters and Naturopaths, and banned tanning for youth under the age of 14.
The legislators also approved new regulations for small food producers that sell jams, jellies, pies and other goods at bake sales and farmers markets.
The latest bill will force genetic counselors to obtain state licenses before practicing their craft, which involves counseling patients on vitally important medical decisions.
Genetic counselors perform a variety of tasks, but much of the attention focuses on cancer screenings and prenatal testing.
Actress Angelina Jolie brought new fame to the field last year after she underwent a pre-emptive double mastectomy to prevent cancer development in her body. Jolie only learned of that possibility after working with a genetic counselor.
Additionally, counselors test babies in the womb for abnormalities. Two senators asked if counselors are allowed to recommend abortions. Hussey said the profession is bound by a code of ethics that prevents counselors from making direct recommendations, but rather supporting patients in their decisions.
Heather Hussey, a genetic counselor for St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, told the panel there’s a dire need for the licenses to protect the public from bad actors.
“Since many of these decisions are life-altering, patients rely on genetic counselors to provide accurate information,” she said.
She pledged the government agency the bill creates will sustain itself through license dollars and will not impact the state’s general fund. She also said licensed genetic counselors would bring down medical costs for patients across Idaho.
Only 12 genetic counselors reside in the state, but another 60 have access to Idaho patients. Across the country, only 19 states license genetic counselors.
Upon questioning in committee, Hussey admitted there’s no immediate problem or crisis the bill addresses.
“We know of no instances in Idaho, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” Hussey said of attempts to undermine the profession.
Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, praised the bill, though he noted as a consumer he’d choose a licensed practitioner over an unlicensed one if given the choice.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Romrell said. “I think this is a great bill.”
Wood defended his committee’s penchant for passing government regulations, saying rules are necessary to protect consumers.
“If we don’t do the right thing, we ought to pack up and go home,” he said.
But the right thing isn’t always obvious. Critics of government expansion and more licensure note the process isn’t a silver bullet.
“Licensing does not guarantee high quality,” Sanford Ikeda, an economics professor at the State University of New York, told IdahoReporter.com.
Ikeda and others suggest lawmakers pursue only certification, which proves skills while simultaneously maintaining consumer choice.
The bill now moves to the House floor.