In the past few years, huge leaps in the field of gene identification and genetic testing have introduced a whole new aspect to the underwriting process of life insurance companies. Can the results of a genetic testing be used to accurately assess the risk of death of a person applying for life insurance? What are its consequences? And how will this affect the industry as a whole? For now, there is no law prohibiting the use of genetic testing in the underwriting process, and many life insurance companies are already using this test to identify genes for Huntington’s disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy-diseases that invariably manifest in people who have those genes. With such technology rapidly advancing, it is probable that genetic testing may be used for other diseases as well in the near future.
Genetic testing can be used to identify whether a person is predisposed to diseases, conditions and traits such as Alzheimer’s and osteoarthritis, various types of cancers; diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis among hundreds of other diseases. The implications are astounding. However, it must be noted that the genetic testing done today covers only about 10 percent of known genetic diseases. While genetic testing may be able to identify a particular health risk no one can say for certain that the gene will be expressed (except for Huntington’s disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy). Many high-risk genes such as breast cancer may be identified but the interaction of other genes, lifestyle, diet and environmental factors also play an important role in the expression of those genes.
Genetic testing – its impact on consumers and life insurance rates
A great boon of genetic testing for consumers is that it can remove uncertainty and help plan against the future. But consumers worry about how underwriters of life insurance companies may interpret test results. They are concerned that a gene with a poorly defined function may be taken as a risk factor, thereby increasing the cost of life insurance. Why should a person have to pay higher premiums for a disease he has no control over or for a disease which may not even manifest itself? How fair is it for life insurance companies to assess your premiums using the results of genetic testing? Some argue that the goal of genetic testing was for doctors to be able to treat and cure diseases more effectively, not for insurance companies to practice discrimination.
But underwriters for life insurance policies have always discriminated against those with higher risk of death. The job of an underwriter is to assess the risk of death of an applicant using the principal “equal premiums for equal risks.” Since the dawn of the life insurance industry, insurance companies have been using mortality tables as a basis for increasing premiums. Men pay a higher premium than women of the same age because women have a higher life expectancy. With some life insurance companies, having a family medical history of congenital disease can raise premiums by 20 to 40 percent.
Insurance companies believe that genetic testing is just like any other routine medical test and the information provided by genetic testing should be used in the underwriting process to accurately assess risk of death. They also believe that once an individual knows that he or she has a chance of developing a disease they will more than likely seek higher coverage.
The disclosure of genetic testing to life insurance companies may discourage people from taking the test because of the risk of having to pay higher premiums. This could prevent consumers from taking a genetic test that could lead them to early diagnosis and treatment, mitigating the onset of that disease.
Genetic testing – its impact on consumers and the life insurance industry
There is evidence from research studies that show insurance companies have already starting discriminating after a genetic testing. As many as 500 cases of individuals and family members have been barred from employment, or lost health or life insurance because of an aberrant gene, apparent or perceived, according to the Council for Responsible Genetics. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act which became a Federal law in 2008 prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information only in relation to health insurance and employment. It does not cover life insurance, disability and long-term care insurance. Life insurance companies may ask an applicant to sign a form that gives them access to personal medical records, including genetic testing results.
However, the converse also holds true. Those whose genetic test results show they are likely to be in good health for the rest of their lives, without any predisposition to disease may not buy life insurance thinking it is unnecessary. This may negatively impact the life insurance business. For instance, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s genes are more likely to opt for long term care insurance rather than life insurance. Such trends will leave life insurance companies with only those who are pre-disposed to certain illnesses forcing companies to charge higher premiums.
The future ahead of us
Genetic testing will drastically revolutionize our world. Discovering solutions that can make this technology work to the advantage of both consumers and life insurance companies need to be developed. Life insurance companies need to incorporate fair techniques for genetic underwriting. Scientific analysis of genetic risks and mortality rates need to be clearly defined. Public poll on genetics and life insurance should be taken into consideration as to what type of genetic information should be accessible to life insurance companies so that consumer trust is not violated.
As science and technology advance, underwriting processes may change, but you’ll still be able to find the best term life insurance policy on the Internet. Use BBB-accredited websites who are associated with top life insurance companies for requesting free life insurance quotes. Compare life insurance rates, company ratings, terms and conditions from multiple life insurance quotes. Savings can be as much as 70 percent by purchasing online!
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