Times: U.S. wants to slowly introduce Australian style insurance industry based on DNA

The Times
28.03.2009
By Mark Henderson

DNA scan ‘could cut cost of insurance - even if results kept secret

Taking genetic tests to assess potential health risks could mean cheaper medical insurance even if the results are not disclosed, a senior industry executive has told The Times.

Customers who take personal DNA scans will pay lower premiums because insurers believe that they encourage a healthier lifestyle, according to Gil Baldwin, the managing director of Norwich Union Healthcare.

The advent of tests for DNA variants that affect common disorders such as diabetes and heart disease has prompted fears of discrimination and the creation of a “genetic underclass” who cannot buy cover. Mr Baldwin insisted that his company did not see genetics as a tool for cherry picking low-risk customers but as a way of helping them to manage and reduce their risk of disease with the aim of lowering costs for both parties.

In an interview with The Times, he said that people who take genetic screening are likely to act on the results and therefore present a much better risk profile. Insurers will reflect this in premiums, regardless of whether results are disclosed.

“The benefit to the insurer is in engaging people around the risks they have, and then devising programmes to help them manage those risks. This isn’t a matter of knowing more about you so we can calculate your personal risk and charge you appropriate premiums. We’d charge you the same premium, but have a better conversation. In time, that leads to a lower premium.

The role of genetics in insurance has emerged as a controversial issue, with the development of increasingly reliable tests for DNA mutations and variants that are linked to disease.

This has led companies such as 23andMe and deCODEme to launch services costing £300 to £700, which screen DNA variants to assess future risk of disease. Many scientists predict that it will be possible to sequence entire genomes for as little as £500 within a few years and that this will soon be offered universally.

the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act passed by the US last year.

He added that as tests became cheaper and more sophisticated, insurers might pay for customers to take them and keep the results confidential.

Full article

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