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Testing time for ABI on genetics

The ABI has been strongly criticised by the Parliamentary science and technology committee for its role in the use of genetic tests by insurance companies.

In a report published last week, the committee of all-party backbench MPs, chaired by Tory MP Dr Michael Clark, makes recommendations to the Government about the use of genetics in insurance.

The main recommendation is a two-year moratorium on the use of test results. The report says because of the uncertainty of the situation and the unreliability of the tests, life offices should stop using them until more is known. It calls on the Government to legislate unless the industry steps into line.

There are 31 other recommendations, many of them focusing on the ABI&#39s role in its members using the tests.

The report uses the phrases “gravest possible doubts” and “unacceptable conflict of interests” when referring to the trade body. The list of faults identified is a long one.

The ABI&#39s recent decision to remove four of the seven tests, which form part of its code of practice and allows members to use the tests when considering insurance applications, is criticised for casting doubt on the relevance of the other tests.

ABI media manager Vic Rance says: “In preparing applications to the genetics and insurance committee, we went into great detail. For the three tests we advocate, we decided they were relevant for insurers. For the ones we removed from the code, we decided there was not a case that demonstrated the results were relevant.”

The committee says the ABI&#39s view that it would be too costly to ignore the results of tests contradicts the views of a number of other insurers.

Clark says: “Genetics should be dealt with in a responsible manner. To start slapping premiums on those who are positive in a genetics test would be damaging to the long-term interests of the insurance industry.”

The report says there is a conflict of interest in having a geneticist on the Government&#39s genetics and insurance committee that decides which gene tests are acceptable.

The report then goes on to question the ABI&#39s entire role in establishing and monitoring a code of practice.

The ABI says the references about its representation on the GAIC are inappropriate and unfair. It says its adviser on genetics, Professor Sandy Rayburn, is a practising clinical geneticist who only works as an adviser on a part-time basis.

Rance says: “If the Govern-ment feels there is a need to reform its committee, then they will do so. We do not think there is a need.

“We find it disappointing that the committee should be so critical of the industry when we have done a lot to introduce order to the use of genetic tests by insurance companies.”

Possibly the most contentious point of the report in the eyes of the ABI is that it was not given a chance to fight its corner. Rance says the ABI approached the committee about testifying but was told the members were not interested in hearing it views.

He says: “Given the number of recommendations they made about the code, it seems fair that we should have been given the chance to defend ourselves. It is the ABI code after all.”

But Clark says: “What we did not want was functionaries from the ABI talking about the trade body. We think the view of member companies are much more relevant than those of the director general of a trade association.”

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