Members of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee approved new government regulations for some medical professionals in a unanimous vote Tuesday.
The regulations would force genetic counselors in and outside of Idaho to submit to new licensing guidelines, which the industry believes will raise quality and protect consumers.
“I think this legislation is overdue,” said Dr. Dan Zuckerman, an oncologist who works for St. Luke’s in Boise. Zuckerman said genetic counselors provide a deep grasp of genetic issues, even surpassing surgeons and other medical professionals.
Idaho boasts only 12 genetic counselors, but another 60 from out of state serve Gem State residents, counselor Heather Hussey told senators. Only 19 states across the country boast licensure requirements for counselors.
The bill would outlaw anyone from practicing counseling without a license and allows the state to charge violators with a misdemeanor. The legislation also establishes an oversight board tasked with setting further rules for the burgeoning industry, regulations up for review by lawmakers each year.
Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman told lawmakers that licensure will only increase the cost of medicine and would do little to increase performance or better medical outcomes.
“This does not make it more protected from bad actors,” Hoffman told the panel. “It increases the cost of medicine.”
Hoffman added that the legislation will restrict entry into the profession, which means a tougher road for Idahoans looking to make a living in the field.
A pair of economists told IdahoReporter.com last week that licensure does, in fact, increase costs while doing little to improve quality. The pair suggested the state should look at skills certification as a better route to protect consumers.
Genetic counselors perform a variety of tasks, but much of the attention focuses on cancer screenings and prenatal testing.
Actress Angelina Jolie highlighted the field last year after she underwent a pre-emptive double mastectomy to prevent cancer development in her body. Jolie only learned of the 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.
“We always redirect it back to the patient,” Hussey said. “It’s usually trying to find a common ground in what they will ultimately choose.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, told colleagues he’s not entirely sure licensure will do much to improve quality of service, but supported the bill because it creates a community for counselors.
“To me, these are some of the most difficult conversations we have,” Schmidt said. “It creates a community … That’s the role state licensure is directed toward.”
The bill now heads to the Senate’s amending order for minor tweaks to the language.