The Future: Genetic Testing and Insurance Companies

Benefits of Genetic Testing

What does genetic testing have to do with a motor vehicle collision? Imagine that you are stopped at a red light when—WHAM—you are rear-ended. You are injured. Years later, you have to file a lawsuit against the driver that rear-ended you. As part of the legal process, the insurance company of the driver who hit you will demand your medical records for both before and after the collision occurred. If you have had genetic testing, and those results are in your doctor’s medical records, then your genetic information is now in the hands of an insurance company.

Over the past decade, numerous people around the world have undergone genetic testing for various reasons. Indeed, there is a multitude of good reasons to undergo genetic testing. Test results can help people make informed decisions about managing their health care. For example, a negative result can eliminate the need for unnecessary checkups and screening tests for people in some cases. A positive result can prompt a person to undertake available prevention, monitoring, and treatment for some disorders. Some test results can also help people make decisions about whether or not to have children. Newborn and infant screening can identify genetic disorders early in life so they can begin treatment as early as possible.

Is there a downside to Genetic Testing?

While the prevalence of genetic testing has provided many positives, there is a downside to undergoing genetic testing. Specifically, how will this information be used by insurance companies once they obtain it? Further, can insurers mandate you undergo genetic testing before agreeing to sell you insurance? Can insurers discriminate against you based upon your genetics? Are they entitled to rely upon genetic testing results when determining eligibility for health or life insurance?

Genetic Testing Around the World

Genetic testing, and its effect on insurance consumers, is a global issue. In many countries, life insurers are already asking for the disclosure of predictive genetic tests for policies over a certain value. Indeed, in Great Britain, the insurance industry has agreed to a moratorium, reviewed every three years, on using genetic testing information. However, the British insurance industry carved out one exception to this moratorium. Insurers in Great Britain can require the disclosure of predictive genetic testing regarding Huntington’s chorea. Individuals in Great Britain seeking a life insurance policy in excess of £500,000, are required to disclose genetic testing results regarding Huntington’s chorea to insurers.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article describing how genetic testing is preventing a woman in Australia from getting insurance. This article can be found here.

In 2008 the United States enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which bans health insurers (and employers) from using genetic testing results but is silent on other types of insurance such as life insurance.

It is clear that genetic testing will become more and more common in the future. It is also clear that insurance companies will seek your genetic information. Therefore, the question is: What will insurers be allowed to do with this information? This is a complex question. Compounding the complexity is that genetic test results are far from perfect. In fact, most diseases or illnesses are multi-factorial and relevant factors include lifestyle, environment, and a combination of genes. There are genes that are correlated with certain diseases like cancer and Alzheimer, but genes do not predict who will get these diseases. Our society needs to address these questions soon because, in the near future, your primary care doctor’s medical records will likely include your genetic information.

If you have a motor vehicle accident or medical malpractice case, please give our trial attorneys a call at 206-527-2000. We provide a free phone consultation with an attorney or paralegal.