Page URL:

Call to let insurers use genetic test results

2 February 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 243

UK insurance companies should have access to genetic test results so they can set fair insurance premiums, according to an article published in the Lancet medical journal last week. Nick Raithatha and Richard Smith, both health economists at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, argue that information from genetic tests is no different from the other types of medical information used by insurers. They conclude that genetic tests do not present any new ethical dilemmas, but that doctors need to reassure patients that they will be dealt with in a similar way to other medical test results.

The potential use of genetic test results by insurance companies has triggered concerns that families affected by genetic disorders will face unfair discrimination when applying for policies. Partly in response to these fears, the UK's Association of British Insurers (ABI) agreed to impose a five-year moratorium on the use of genetic test results, which is due to expire in November 2006. The self-imposed industry ban followed a previous decision by the UK Department of Health's Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) to allow insurers to use test results for the rare genetic condition Huntington's disease, for life insurance. GAIC was re-formed with an extended remit in 2002, and has recently published its second annual report, in which it says that insurance companies have all complied with the moratorium. However, GAIC is currently considering 17 other applications by insurers to use genetic test results, including those for inherited breast cancer and early onset Alzheimer's disease.

The authors of the Lancet article say that the lack of information on the links between a person's genes, lifestyle and future health may mean that the use of genetic tests by insurers might be inappropriate, rather than unethical. But they also say that compared to other medical tests - for example, blood cholesterol tests - genetic testing poses 'no new ethical issues compared with already accepted (non-genetic) practices adopted by insurance companies'. In fact, they say, 'the present inconsistency concerning the disclosure of results of genetic and non-genetic based tests seems unethical', because people withholding genetic tests results have an unfair advantage over those who reveal the results of other medical tests.

However, Dr Helen Wallace, of the pressure group Genewatch, said that people with a family history of a disease already face a difficult decision about getting information from genetic tests, without the need for extra anxiety. 'The insurance industry claims that if it doesn't press for this information, it could be cheated by customers who use it to take out extra cover', she said, adding that 'there has never been any evidence for this'. She called for the current moratorium on the use of genetic test results by insurers to be turned into a law.

Disclosure of genetic tests for health insurance: is it ethical not to?
The Lancet |  30 January 2004
Genetics and Insurance Committee Second Report
GAIC |  20 January 2004
Insurers 'should see gene tests'
BBC News Online |  30 January 2004
Let insurers see results of genetic tests, urge doctors
The Daily Mail |  30 January 2004
14 June 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Researchers shouldn't feel obliged to disclose genetic information about study participants, a global survey of genetic researchers has found....
2 April 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
The US House Energy and Commerce Committee has voted in favour of legislation to prevent insurers and employers from using genetic information to discriminate against individuals. Both the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labour Committee have also voted in favour of the legislation, which...
29 January 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The proposed Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act 2007 is poised for fast-track consideration through the US Congress. It was reintroduced into the US House of Representatives earlier this month (HR 493), with its prospects for successful passage into law appearing better than similar past attempts. The Act aims...
16 February 2006 - by BioNews 
Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston has repeated his call for new UK laws to prevent genetic discrimination. He says that when the current moratorium on the use of genetic tests results by insurers runs out, in November 2011, it should be replaced by legislation. Professor Sulston, who is vice-chair...
4 November 2005 - by BioNews 
Some Australian insurance companies are discriminating against people who have taken predictive genetic tests, according to the government-funded Genetic Discrimination Project. A survey carried out by the group identified 87 people who have suffered 'specific instances of negative treatment', according to New Scientist magazine. Team leader Kristine Barlow-Stewart reported the...
29 October 2001 - by BioNews 
Insurance companies in the UK have agreed to impose a voluntary five-year ban on the use of genetic testing. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) announced last week that it agrees with the government on a policy of not asking people seeking insurance to reveal their DNA test results unless...
16 October 2000 - by BioNews 
The UK's Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) has recommended that insurance companies should be allowed to use the results of tests for Huntington's disease when underwriting life insurance policies for individuals with a family history of the illness. The decision follows a recent application from the Association of British Insurers...
16 October 2000 - by Dr John Gillott 
The decision by the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) last week to approve the use of genetic test results for Huntington's disease in assessing life insurance applications re-ignited a public debate about the dark side of advances in genetic science. According to the Daily Mail, Britain now leads the world...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.