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Insurers to consider hereditary cancer test results?

14 May 2007
Appeared in BioNews 407

According to recent news reports, the UK's Association of British Insurers (ABI) may seek permission to use the results of predictive genetic tests for inherited breast and ovarian cancer, to set insurance premiums.

Mutated versions of the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to confer a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer to carriers. Genetic mutations currently account for around five per cent of breast cancer cases and ten per cent of ovarian cancer. In 2004, 4635 women in the UK were tested for BRCA mutations, around 1000 of which were predictive tests carried out on women with a family history of breast cancer.

There is a moratorium in place until 2011, voluntarily agreed between the ABI and the UK Government, which restricts the use of genetic information in setting insurance policies. The moratorium prevents insurance companies from using genetic information to calculate insurance premiums below £500,000 for life insurance, £300,000 for critical illness and £30,000 for income protection policies. If insurance companies want to access genetic information to set premiums above these rates they need to seek permission from the government advisory body - the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC). GAIC has only approved one such application, which allows insurance companies to request genetic test results for Huntington's disease in life insurance policies over £500,000.

There is a fear that if genetic test results can be accessed by insurance companies and employers then people will be deterred from taking predictive tests and participating in research. A survey conducted by the charity Breakthrough for Breast Cancer in 2005, showing that approximately one third of women with a family history of breast cancer would not take the genetic test if their insurance company was allowed to access the data, goes some way to confirm this fear.

Legislation to prohibit genetic discrimination in insurance and employment is expected to be in place in the US by the end of 2007. There have been several calls for similar legislation to be implemented in the UK. In the meantime, moves to allow genetic test results for BRCA mutations to be used by insurers are likely to be met with fierce opposition from patient interest groups.

Insurers mull cancer gene tests
BBC News Online |  8 May 2007
Insurers Weigh Testing for Cancer Genes
Newsday |  9 May 2007
30 March 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Customers who undergo genetic testing to discover their risk of developing certain diseases may be offered lower premiums regardless of whether they disclose the results, a leading UK insurance company has said. The company believes that individuals who discover they are at increased risk of a disease...
24 September 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has called for the proposed Equality Bill to include measures to prohibit genetic discrimination both in the workplace and by the insurance industry. Speaking on behalf of the HGC, acting Chairman Sir John Sulston, said that such measures 'would be a...
30 May 2007 - by Anna Wood 
Recent reports that UK insurers could soon seek approval to use genetic test results for inherited cancers to set premiums will have alarmed many individuals and families who could be affected. As the leading charity providing support and care to those affected by the disease, Breast Cancer Care hears from...
1 May 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
The first coherent US legislation prohibiting genetic discrimination could be law within months. The House of Representatives has passed the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which will prevent the public from being disadvantaged on the basis of their DNA. The bill will now progress to the Senate...
20 February 2006 - by Dr Helen Wallace 
Last week, in a Joint Statement of Concern, forty-five organisations and individuals expressed their fears about the lack of safeguards to prevent genetic discrimination. The Statement calls on the Government to legislate against the use of genetic test results in employment and insurance. Many European countries have such laws, however...
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...
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