GENTECH archive


Insurers discriminate based on genes?

Friday December 11 1:47 PM ET

Study: Insurers discriminate based on genes

LONDON, Dec 11 (Reuters Health) -- Life insurance agencies in
Great Britain may inadvertently discriminate against people with
genetic disorders who seek insurance coverage, a study suggests.

``Life insurers may not be operating a consistent policy for
assessing genetic information,'' researchers write this week in
the British Medical Journal. ``The inconsistency suggests error
rather than a corporate policy of discrimination based on
genetic characteristics.''

One third of the members of support groups for families with
genetic disorders perceived difficulty in obtaining life
insurance, according to Lawrence Low and colleagues from the
Wellcome Trust in London.

Thirteen percent of individuals with a genetic disorder that did
cause any adverse actuarial risk also perceived discrimination,
according to the report. In comparison, only 1 out of 20 people
without a genetic disorder (5%) felt they had problems when
applying for insurance.

The researchers mailed surveys to people in seven genetic
support groups in order to determine whether any members had
experienced difficulty obtaining life insurance. The survey was
conducted in 1996, a year before the Association of British
Insurers introduced a code of practice for the use of genetic
test results. The group also imposed a temporary moratorium on
the use of the results for policies linked to home mortgages
under 100,000 pounds sterling.

While there was no clear pattern of perceived discrimination,
there was the suggestion of inconsistency and error on the part
of the insurers, according to the report.

``Our findings suggest that in less clear cut instances, where
genes confer an increased susceptibility rather than 100% or
zero probability, some people might be charged high premiums
that cannot be justified on the actuarial risk they present,''
they say.

Responding to the research, Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the
Association of British Insurers, said that the ``industry is
committed to ensuring that anybody with a genetic condition is
treated fairly.''

``Certainly we don't believe there's been any discrimination in
the past covering people with a genetic disorder,'' Tarling told
Reuters Health. ``We've made a lot of efforts to make sure the
reverse is true.''

SOURCE: British Medical Journal 1998;317:1632-1635. 


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