Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_90715

UK insurance moratorium on use of genetic data extended until 2014

16 June 2008
Appeared in BioNews 462

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) announced last Friday that a moratorium on the use of genetic test results by UK insurance companies has been extended until 2014. The agreement prevents insurance companies from requesting predicative genetic test results from customers which could be used to deny or increase the cost of cover. Stephen Haddrill, Director General of the ABI, said 'the moratorium on the use of predictive genetic test results works well for consumers. It means people can insure themselves and their families, even if they have had an adverse result from a predictive genetic test'. It is hoped the agreement will instil public confidence that genetic test results will not be used against individuals.

The moratorium was agreed to for the first time in 2001 and was due to expire in 2011. It covers life policies up to £500,000 and critical illness insurance up to £300,000. Above this threshold if insurers want to use genetic test results they may only request results from tests approved by the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC), a non-statutory advisory body, which at present only includes the test for Huntington's Disease.

The issue of the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes has generated controversy since scientists have claimed that it is possible to test for genetic 'markers' that denote diseases such as heart disease and cancer. There are currently hundreds of genetic tests available and in the absence of the moratorium insurers could refuse cover to individuals where tests reveal a predisposition to a certain condition or disorder. Supporters of using genetic test results point out that such information is no different to the information insurance companies currently gather from customers. Critics argue, however, that genetic testing may not always be conclusive and can be used in a discriminatory way. Previously, Professor Richard Ashcroft, a biomedical ethicist from Queen Mary, University of London, argued in the British Medical Journal, 'it is important to note how genetic information can be misunderstood, or its importance overestimated, and therefore used in discriminatory ways that would not be justified on sound actuarial grounds'. He highlighted the BRCA1 gene in breast cancer, which makes little difference to a woman's life expectancy, but which could be interpreted as a grave risk of the disease and early death by an insurance company.

The moratorium in the UK remains only a voluntary agreement and some commentators have called on the Government to introduce legislation similar to that in the US to ensure the public is protected in law against the use of adverse genetic data. Last month President Bush signed into law the US's long-awaited Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act ('GINA'), which prevents insurers and employers from requesting predictive genetic testing or accessing their results. Employers will also be prevented from hiring or firing employees on the basis of genetic tests. There is no such legislation on the UK's statute books, however.

It is reported that the moratorium will be revisited in 2011. There are currently no new applications for the use of predictive genetic tests to the GAIC and the ABI has said it does not intend to submit any this year.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Genetic data banned for insurers
BBC News Online |  13 June 2008
Insurers postpone genetic testing
The Times |  13 June 2008
UK insurers extend freeze on genetic testing
Reuters |  13 June 2008
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
2 July 2012 - by George Frodsham 
People who undergo genetic testing to establish their future risk of developing a genetic condition, such as Alzheimer's or breast cancer, will continue to have the right to take out health insurance without disclosing the test results to their insurer....
20 June 2011 - by Stevienna de Saille 
Arising from Dr Antoinette Rouvroy's doctoral research, Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance was originally published as a hardback in 2008, but has only recently become available in a paperback edition affordable to the general reader. In between those two dates much has happened in the field of genetics and governance, both globally and in the UK...
22 February 2010 - by Ben Jones 
An Australian insurance firm has become the subject of criticism after offering customers reduced price genetic tests while providing in the small print that the results are to be made available for consideration by life insurance providers should they desire them....
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...
2 June 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Last Wednesday, President Bush signed into law the US's long-awaited Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act ('GINA'), heralded as the first civil rights legislation of the new millennium. The legislation swept Congress with a combined almost-unanimous 509-1 vote and will prohibit genetic discrimination by employers, insurers and unions...
11 June 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
A leading medical ethicist has argued that the results of genetic tests should be made available to insurers. Professor Soren Holm, from Cardiff Law School, says that the availability of such genetic information is in principle no different to other types of medical data already made available...
9 February 2006 - by BioNews 
Two projects aiming to pinpoint genetic and other influences on health have been launched in the US. The Genes and Environment Initiative (GEI), based at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will look at genetic variations and measure environmental factors such as exposure to toxins. The other initiative is a...
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in 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.