Life insurance and genetic testing

Discrimination happening in Australia


A parliamentary inquiry is currently underway into Australia’s life insurance industry, which has raised several issues including discrimination by insurers.

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According to a team from Monash University, insurers are denying applicants life insurance and raising premiums inappropriately based on genetic test results. They maintain that there is a concerning lack of regulation over the use of genetic information by the Australian life insurance industry. Insurance companies are allowed to use genetic test results to discriminate against applicants for life, permanent disability, and income protection insurance (which all come under the life-insurance product category), with little independent oversight or consumer transparency.


This discrimination can deter people from getting genetic tests and being involved in medical research that could prove useful for their future health and scientific understanding of diseases. Although cases of genetic discrimination are difficult to identify, they have been documented in Australia. Under Australian law, life insurance applicants must disclose any known genetic test results if requested by the insurer.


This includes results from approved clinical genetic tests, but also less reliable findings from research or direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, if they are known to the applicant. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests are a new concept whereby consumers have genes tested directly through a private company without medical consultation.


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According to the Monash investigation, Australian life insurance companies are technically required by law to justify decisions based on genetic results. In practice, however, consumers have no way of requiring insurers to provide information about how decisions are made. The Australian Government leaves the life insurance industry to self-regulate its policy through the Financial Services Council (FSC). This essentially means the insurance industry writes its own rules on the use of genetic data, raising obvious conflicts of interest. Recently the FSC updated its genetic testing policy to suggest that insurance companies ask applicants if they are considering having a genetic test. This is a concerning development, the Monash team say.


Many other countries have protected consumers by restricting or banning the use of genetic information for insurance altogether, including the UK, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Canada and Sweden. In Australia, the situation is very different. Patients considering predictive or family-based clinical genetic testing are frequently advised to review their life insurance situation prior to taking the test, due to the obligation to disclose results to insurers.


The fear of unknown insurance implications deters some of these people from having this testing. This can sometimes mean passing up critical information that can be used to help prevent cancers and other serious diseases. For example, one study looked at patients at risk of bowel cancer due to family history. It found more than double the patients, who had been advised of the possible effect of having a positive test on their insurance claim, declined testing compared with patients who had not been advised of this possible effect.


SOURCE: Originally published in The Conversation Posted Fri at 3:11am


You can be denied life insurance based on genetic tests — and there’s little protection


By Jane Tiller and Paul Lacaze, Monash University

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