Preventing Genetic Discrimination Health Insurance Companies

2232 words - 9 pages

Genetic testing in relation to insurance has been an issue since the start of the Human Genome Project. Advances in technology have significantly increased the precision and availability of genetic testing. These tests can predict the possibility of future illnesses in individuals or can rule out alleged genetic conditions. As genetic testing became more prominent, interest in the use of genetic information for purposes other than direct health care increased. Concerns about to whom the information is disclosed and how the information is being used have arisen. Morris reports that in a case study that was conducted in Ireland, 20.6% of the participating respondents voiced their belief that there may be societal benefits from disclosing genetic tests results to insurers. However, the other 73.4% of the respondents stated that insurance should not use genetic tests as a basis for deciding on whether or not to insure an applicant (2010). Genetic tests should not be disclosed to insurance companies because of the potential for discrimination in health insurance coverage, the workplace and because of insufficient anti- discrimination legislation.
Insurance companies are concerned that the principles their businesses rest upon will deteriorate if they are denied access to genetic test information (Morris, 2010). Life insurance is based upon the concept that the premium paid by an individual is adequate in covering the risk that individual brings into the insurance fund. Morris pointed out that currently, life insurance companies already have the right to differentiate premiums based on the risk factors of each applicant (2010). In order to classify applicants by risk, insurers use a process called medical underwriting. Medical underwriting is a health insurance term referring to the use of medical information in the evaluation of an applicant for life or health insurance. As part of the underwriting process, two decisions are made. The first is whether to offer or deny insurance coverage and the second is what premium rate to set for the policy. According to Wolf and Kahn, once the process of underwriting is completed, the insurer then looks over the information and writes various exclusions into the policy, depending on the risks discovered (2007).
Traditionally, life insurance companies used family history in order to seek out hereditary data. Now, the availability of precise genetic tests, presents an opportunity for accurate classification of applicants for insurance. Raithatha and Smith (2004) defend the thought that genetic tests are not all that much different than family history and other medical tests. Therefore, insurers argue that genetic tests should not raise new ethical and legal questions (Morris, 2010). In fact, Raithatha and Smith state that currently insurance companies are required to treat genetic tests in a different manner compared to other tests, which in itself, generates discrimination (2004).
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