The House of Commons science and technology committee says positive genetic tests used by insurance companies to assess potential customers should be halted for at least two years. Its' report last week urged the cessation of tests in order to allay public fears about the creation of a 'genetic underclass' and because the relevance of genetic tests to insurance is yet to be fully assessed. Fears have been expressed that some people would not get insurance because of their genetic make-up. The committee recommended that such people should have alternative forms of insurance.
The report stated that insurance companies rarely use the information from genetic tests, meaning that they could easily stop their use for the short-term future, allowing time for the necessity of such tests to be considered. It also noted that when insurers do use the information, they are governed by the code of practice of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
The code says that people cannot be asked to take a genetic test, but if a person has already taken such a test, insurers are entitled to ask about the results. Tests currently in the code include those for Huntington's chorea, early onset familial Alzheimer's disease and some hereditary forms of cancer.
The code of practice says that insurance companies can only take the results of genetic tests into account for particular types of insurance, such as life insurance or income protection. Test results cannot be used when assessing private medical insurance or mortgage-related life insurance up to £100,000.
The government has welcomed the report and has secured agreement from the ABI that certain test results will not be used. It has asked the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) to look at the wider social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetic data in insurance, and the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC) is to look at the clinical and actuarial evidence for specific genetic tests. A draft report from the HGC is expected in June. Insurance companies have agreed not to use the results of genetic tests if GAIC concludes there is no scientific and actuarial evidence for their use.
Sources and References
Life insurers cornered on genetic testing
Insurance firms face ban on access to clients' genetic tests
MPs call for halt on genetic tests for insurance