What is buried in your DNA was once a secret, buried deep within the paired strands of your DNA. The Human Genome Project, began in 1900, has changed all that. The watershed moment came in 2003 when the international research project completed its mission: sequencing the genome. Decoding the blueprint for every human being, which directs their development, influences, and health, has provided revolutionary insight ever since.
Fast forward to today, and we can get genetic direct-to-consumer tests like 23andMe. 23andMe, and companies like it, offers risk reports for at least 11 diseases, providing us with revealing genetic information that may predict our future health.
More than 12 million people have submitted to these direct-to-consumer DNA tests, 8 million since just 2016. Recent studies indicate that as much as 15% of the U.S. population has taken such a test.
But genomics, while transforming medicine, is also changing the insurance industry. The rapidly advancing science is forcing the industry to navigate a multitude of actuarial, ethical, privacy, and even reputational concerns. People who get tested will want to take actions to prevent or slow the onset of any potential diseases that may have been revealed or predicted through testing.
For example, let’s say that your test indicates a predisposition for Alzheimer’s Disease, or Parkinson’s. You may seek medical care to slow or prevent any onset. You may get some long-term care insurance to make certain that you are taken care of, should the disease occur. You may secure life insurance to protect your family from a possible earlier death.
But insurance products could be greatly affected by these revelations. Current products may slim, retract, even disappear. Currently, the industry has not made any sweeping changes, given the relatively small segment of the population has bene affected. But that is also changing quickly, as the tests are relatively inexpensive. The fundamental business models for life, disability, critical illness, and long-term care insurances could be at stake, given the growing threat of information, as more people who seek out insurance products will do so without disclosing their predispositions to certain diseases.
A federal law passed in 2008 prevents health insurers from getting the results of genetic testing, but does NOT bind life, disability, critical illness, and long-term care insurers from seeking information about these genetic predispositions. Therefore, companies may begin to request this information before issuing policies, or to rescind them at some point.
Even I have been impacted by the availability of this data. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her physician recommended that my daughters and I be tested for the genetic predispositions. My first thought was how it would impact our insurability going forward. My advice to you, given our current environment, is to secure insurances to protect both you and your family BEFORE you engage in genetic testing and it begins to show up in your medical records because you seek prevention options or actual treatment. Hopefully, identifying potentially harmful genes also leads to innovative ways to stave off or prevent these diseases altogether. In the meantime, it is prudent to protect yourself against any potential illnesses. We are all bound to live longer, but also to live with chronic medical conditions. Be safe.
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