An eminent Australian geneticist has slammed life insurance companies that refuse to cover genetically vulnerable people, saying the companies are stuck in old-fashioned thinking.
Robyn Ward of the University of New South Wales and chairwoman of the federal government’s Human Genetics Advisory Committee, said despite concerted lobbying to the life insurance industry, many companies discriminated against those with genetic predispositions towards diseases such as cancer.
Her comments come as the Medical Journal of Australia publishes on Monday a report revealing the story of a young Brisbane father with a genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer who was knocked back for life insurance cover by four major companies.
”This illustrates the insurance companies are thinking of a world that is not around preventative healthcare and that is contrary to where medicine is heading and where society is heading,” Professor Ward said.
”James” (not his real name) went to the Australian Human Rights Commission claiming discrimination – at which point one of the companies agreed to insure him. The four he approached, he says, were the insurance arms of the four major banks.
In Australia, life insurance companies are allowed to use an applicant’s genetic information in assessments. Health insurers are not. Professor Ward said fear of discrimination could, for some patients, be a deterrent to getting tested. She said in the case of colorectal cancer, colonoscopies were very effective in detecting precursors. ”This is the message for life insurance companies: that a genetic test can lead to proven measures that can reduce the risk of cancer to the same as the general population. There are no downsides to that.”
As medicine learns more about predispositions to disease, ”we will see more people who can take action to prevent those diseases. That is what we want in a healthy Australia”.
In 2003 the Australian Law Reform Commission studied the issue and recommended an ”ongoing review” of genetics, discrimination and life insurance.
A spokeswoman for the Financial Services Council, which represents the life insurance industry, said insurance companies had to adhere to ”robust and strict processes” around what information could be relied upon in life insurance underwriting decisions, and ”genetic information was just one of many considerations”.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.