Australian insurers’ use of genetic information cause concern

Questions have been raised on increased premiums and denied applications

Australian insurers’ use of genetic information cause concern
The use of genetic information for life-insurance applications has been hotly debated in Canada, with some arguing that it could be used as a basis for discrimination against certain claimants and applicants. That same debate is occurring across the world.

“There is a concerning lack of regulation over the use of genetic information by the Australian life insurance industry,” said a think piece published by the Conversation in Australia.

According to authors Jane Tiller and Paul Lacaze, both from Monash University, Australian insurers can raise premiums, exclude insurance cover for certain conditions, or refuse cover altogether based purely on an individual’s genetic tests results.

They related one case wherein a woman with an increased genetic risk for cancer chose to have both breasts removed to reduce her risk. When she applied for death and critical illness coverage, the insurer disregarded the mastectomies, and “excluded any cancer cover and imposed a 50% premium loading for death cover.” Another man with a genetic risk for bowel cancer was denied cancer coverage in spite of his undergoing colonoscopies to bring his risk in line with the population average.

While life insurance companies in Australia are technically required by law to justify decisions they base on genetic test results, they are self-regulated through the industry’s Financial Services Council (FSC). According to the piece, the FSC’s genetic testing policy was recently updated to suggest that applicants be asked if they’re considering a genetic test.

Australian law requires life insurance applicants to disclose genetic test results they know about if the insurer asks for them. “This includes results from approved clinical genetic tests [and] less reliable findings from research or direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests,” the authors said.

The possible ramifications are affecting patients’ willingness to undergo genetic testing. Because of the obligation to disclose results, testing facilities are advising prospective clients to review their life insurance situation before they proceed.

“The fear of unknown insurance implications deters some of these people from having this testing,” the authors said. “This can sometimes mean passing up critical information that can be used to help prevent cancers and other serious diseases.”

People are also hesitating to participate in broad medical studies that involve taking their genetic information. While the issue has no legal bearing on private health insurance, most Australian consumers are not aware of the distinction.

The authors noted that many other countries, including Canada, the UK, and many other European countries have restricted or totally prohibited the use of genetic information for insurance.

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