A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia indicates that up to 50 per cent of Australians could be refusing genetic tests due to the fear that the test outcomes will result in increased health insurance premiums or refusal to insure them altogether. In Australia, genetic information does not inform health insurance. However, it may affect insurance policies that cover trauma, disability, sickness and accidents. Applicants for such health insurance policies have a statutory duty to disclose known relevant information and so long as insurance companies comply with anti-discrimination law, they are within their rights to refuse insurance, or charge a higher premium based on the information provided.
The study, carried out at Melbourne University, identified 106 people from 25 different families thought to be at increased risk of bowel cancer. When the participants were initially offered the screening tests 80 per cent were in favour. However, the number willing to find out the results of their tests decreased by 50 per cent when participants were informed that insurance policies may be affected by the results.
In Australia bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, with one in 3000 Australians having a genetic mutation
putting them in a high risk category. Screening for bowel cancer is an effective way of diagnosing and removing polyps from those with the genetic mutation, and thus preventing the disease.
Senior author of the paper Mark Jenkins said: 'Insurance-related apprehension about genetic testing could have troubling public health consequences. Screening people at high genetic risk of bowel cancer is a highly cost effective way to reduce deaths due to bowel cancer'.
In response to this research, the authors of the study have called on the Federal Government and Australian insurance companies to reconsider the current policy. The paper concluded: 'If the industry's position on genetic information deters individuals from obtaining test results, the clinical and public health consequences could be damaging'.