Genetic Testing and Insurance Cover

Article published on 18th June 2008

Over the next few articles we will be looking at the topical issue of predictive genetic testing, the laws surrounding it and how it effects, if at all, insurance availability (particularly critical illness insurance and life insurance).

The USA is waiting for the House of Representatives to give final approvals on the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act so that it can become law. This law would then prevent employers, unions and insurers from using genetic information to discriminate against people. If the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act passes into law, it will help neutralise fears that genetic testing works against those who fear discrimination while shopping around for insurance.

There is a Catch 22 of course. Predictive genetic testing is not a 'bad' thing per se. It was devised as a means of catching debilitating and potentially fatal illnesses long before they occur and while still largely preventable - so for screening foetuses and diagnosing potential health problems in babies. But of course the technology has now developed and genetic tests can be taken at almost any time of life for a variety of reasons. Indeed, there are supposedly 1,500 genetic tests now available to the public, most relevantly these tests can now test for those genes that may lead to the development of cancer later in life - something of interest to many insurance companies.

US campaigners are happy that the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act has got through Senate approval - the first major hurdle before it becomes law. The director of the Genetics and Public Policy Centre, Kathy Hudson, has been quoted as saying: "After a very long wait, Americans can now be confident that their genetic information cannot be used by health insurers or employers in harmful or hurtful ways."

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