Azara Blog: Moratorium on results of genetic tests being provided to insurance companies extended to 2014

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Date published: 2008/06/13

The BBC says:

A temporary ban on the results of genetic tests being made available to insurance companies has been extended by three years.

The moratorium which ran out in 2011 will now stand until 2014.

It means people seeking insurance do not have to reveal the results of genetic tests which could point to the risk of serious illness in the future.

The temporary ban has been in place since 2001 and campaigners have urged for it to be extended.

The voluntary UK moratorium covers income protection policies up to the value of £30,000 per year, critical illness up to the value of £300,000, and life insurance of £500,000. It accounts for about 97% of insurance policies.

Life insurers already use complex calculations based on age, existing illnesses, lifestyle and weight to calculate the expected lifespan, and the risk of disease in someone applying for a policy.

Some health professionals say that there are genetic "markers" for common serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

But campaigners fear unfair discrimination such as increased premiums or a rejection of insurance if disclosure of genetic tests was granted.

They argue that a positive test for a "disease" gene does not mean illness is certain.

Well it's trivially obvious (and everyone would agree) that "a positive test for a 'disease' gene does not mean illness is certain". Insurance companies do not deal in certainty, they deal in probabilities. People who are positive for one of these tests are more likely to have worse health outcomes. This is why the results of these tests would be useful for insurance companies. So these so-called campaigners are either ignorant or disingenuous, or the BBC is misrepresenting their views. (We do not know since the BBC does not say who they are, or provide any attributable quotes.)

Anything that insurance companies can do to discriminate the likelihood (and quantity) of a payout helps them provide lower prices for certain groups of people and will force other groups of people to pay a higher price. As mentioned in the article, this kind of discrimination already exists for plenty of conditions. The reasons genetic conditions are special is that one cannot do anything about one's genes (although many illnesses are pre-conditioned on both genetic and environmental factors). Well, it's possible that things like obesity are also genetically based, but people do not see it that way, and obesity is also something that is obvious for all to see. Genetic conditions are often not obvious to see, and if they could be used in a discriminatory fashion then people might not see medical help. That is the real point of this moratorium.

On the other hand, people can now take genetic tests and if they find some dreadful result they can immediately go out and buy (say) life insurance knowing full well that there is a reasonable chance their family will financially gain as a result. The rest of society has to carry the can for this. This is why there is some limit on the values allowed for insurance policies covered by this moratorium.

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