The issue of what kind of access insurers should have to its customers' genetic test results has been knocking around for a few years now. But whilst the main protagonists have taken their time to mull over the issues, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee decided to take a more speedy approach. Setting up a short enquiry in December 2000, the committee has come up with a lengthy list of recommendations in just three months.
The committee's principal recommendation is that the insurance industry agrees to a two-year moratorium on the use of any positive genetic test results when deciding upon insurance premiums. If accepted, the moratorium would mean that insurers must take note of customers' genetic tests which demonstrate that they will not develop a particular genetic disease which is in their family. Test results which do indicate a raised risk, however, should, according to the committee, be ignored.
Press coverage of the Science and Technology Committee's report focused upon its criticisms of the insurance industry, raising questions about how much insurers can be trusted to regulate themselves. But the government received its own ticking off from the MPs. 'The previous unwillingness of government to become involved in this area,' the report observed, 'has contributed to the atmosphere of confusion and ignorance that pervades the use of genetic test results.'
Confusion certainly exists. The report lists a handful of insurance companies and their respective policies on genetic test results. Some comply with Association of British Insurers (ABI) code of practice (which permits the use of test results for seven genetic conditions). Others prefer an abbreviated version, using just four genetic tests. One or two comply with the tests the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) has approved (only Huntington's at present). The most embarrassing finding for the insurance industry must surely be that, at times, companies were unsure of their own policies.
Before the government steps in with legislation or accedes to the Science and Technology Committee's request for a moratorium, perhaps clear and accurate information would be helpful. If insurers are up-front about their genetic test policies, prospective customers can at least make an informed decision about where to apply for insurance.