Genetic testing could limit life, health insurance options

 

Manikin Loupe DNA

The U.S. personal genetics company 23andme has recently announced that Canadians can now purchase genetic test kits for C$199 that will provide information on genealogical information and 108 health conditions.

But if you need life or health insurance, you’d better apply for it first, because risk factors disclosed in your test results could impact your insurability and/or your premium levels.

Globe and Mail columnist André Picard reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to date has not allowed the company to release health results based on this testing south of the border. The FDA believes that the tests and the accompanying results may  not be accurate and the health information could prompt consumers to seek unnecessary and harmful medical interventions.

However, Picard says that Health Canada does not view a genetic test kit as a therapeutic product, therefore  pre-market approval by the regulator is not required.

So if you purchase a genetic test kit online from 23and me and send in a saliva sample because you want to find out more about your ancestral origin or trace your lineage, you may get more than you bargained for.

You could also find out that you have genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Hereditary Ovarian Cancer Syndrome or over 100 other conditions. Because you will have to disclose this information when you apply for life or health insurance, it could impact whether or not you are offered coverage and/or how much it costs.

The problem from an insurance perspective is that in late September the Canadian Life and Health insurance Association released a new Industry Code on Genetic Testing Information for Insurance Underwriting to be adopted by all of its member life and health insurance companies.

The Code reinforces the industry’s long-standing approach of not requiring an individual to undergo genetic testing as part of the application process for life or health insurance. However, where genetic testing has been undertaken and a person is aware of the results and subsequently applies for insurance, the insurance company is entitled to material information revealed by the test results to assess risk.

This is in spite of the fact that a recent report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada called on insurers to stop asking for access to genetic data altogether until they can show the information is effective for actuarial purposes.

Nevertheless, Glenn Cooper, the President of Life Insurance Canada.com thinks that the new Industry Code makes sense. He says, “If a consumer has testing done and knows he has a predisposition to a certain condition, he has an unfair advantage over the insurance company because he would be more inclined to purchase life insurance than the average consumer.”

There are many very valid health reasons for seeking genetic testing, but caveat emptor. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no turning back. You may have trouble getting the insurance you need at the time when you need it most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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