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Genetic tests could reduce premiums, says insurer

30 March 2009
Appeared in BioNews 501

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 will be more likely to adopt a healthier lifestyle and enrol on routine screening programmes.

Concerns that genetic testing might lead to some people being unable to get affordable life insurance has led to a UK moratorium preventing insurance companies from requesting or using genetic information when setting premiums. It is currently up to the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC), a non-statutory advisory body, to decide which genetic test results insurers can request, however at present the only approved test is for Huntington's disease in patients requesting life insurance in excess of £500,000 or health cover above £300,000.

Speaking to the Times, Gil Baldwin, Managing Director of Norwich Union Healthcare, said that knowing the results of genetic tests wouldn't be necessary. 'The thing about genetic screening is I'm not interested in knowing what your results are. I'm interested that you are interested in going for a screen, because only a madman would get information saying you're at risk of a heart attack and do nothing with that information', he said.

Companies such as 23andMe and deCODEme offer genetic testing services screening variants linked to a wide range of diseases for between £300 and £700. With DNA sequencing technology advancing at pace, it is likely that such services will become increasingly reliable, affordable and, consequently, widespread, reinforcing the need for regulation to prevent genetic discrimination.

It is not yet clear what will happen when the moratorium expires in 2014. There is concern that if the moratorium is not extended or replaced by legislation, people may be discouraged from taking predictive tests which might otherwise flag up the need for routine screening or preventative surgery. Some campaigners have called for legislation equivalent to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), signed into US law last year.

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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....
16 June 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
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...
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...
30 May 2007 - by Anna Wood 
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14 May 2007 - by Danielle Hamm 
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...
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