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The genetic dilemma

The insurance sector is trying to absorb the implications of last week&#39s announcement by the Gov- ernment backing the industry&#39s use of genetic testing in life cover applications.

Consumer groups, however, are up in arms, warning of a genetic underclass if testing is opened up to include other hereditary diseases.

The insurance industry, however, has dismissed fears that some groups in society could have problems getting a mortgage or life cover or could have to fork out higher premiums as a result of testing.

ABI director general Mary Francis has made assurances that insurers will not ask someone to take a genetic test as a condition of obtaining insurance.

She says: “Where someone has a family history of a particular genetic condition, they can be offered insurance at standard rates if they have had a genetic test and the result is negative.”

It is understood that tests covering several other conditions, including hereditary breast cancer and Alzheimer&#39s disease, are also awaiting approval.

Two years ago, however, another advisory body, the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, recommended a moratorium on using information from these types of tests.

The commission&#39s proposal was rejected by the Government, which dec-ided insurers should be able to use the information, subject to the Genetics And Insurance Committee agreeing that the test is technically reliable.

The Government&#39s decision to allow insurers to use genetic testing is a landmark for the industry and has been met with tenta-tive enthusiasm. But Norwich Union long-term care strategy manager Sandy Johnstone thinks it is too early to gauge the possible impact.

He says: “Until we have a wider idea of the conditions, it is difficult for insurers to say the way it will affect underwriting life insurance. All sides of the debate have been consulted, which is good news, and the results have been accepted as reasonable criteria.”

Johnstone believes it will come to a point where it is relatively easy for people to undergo tests to determine genetics identity.

He says: “The industry has long acknowledged that people will be able to know more about their health so the insurance sector will have to respond to people wanting to insure against this.”

Other providers, however, fear that the threat of testing could discourage people to take out cover full stop.

Standard Life Healthcare spokeswoman Mandy Blanks says Standard does not and will not request results of genetic tests and does not take genetic results into account.

She says: “We have no intention of changing our policy on this. We don&#39t think tests would have an affect on our claims. Some people now might even be deterred from taking the tests in the first place.”

The ABI says it will cont- inue to work with the GAIC on applications relating to the small number of other genetic tests which insurers are currently permitted to take into account under the association&#39s code of practice.

The Human Genetics Advisory Commission has said it will be launching a public consultation exercise about the use and protection of genetic informa- tion, including the issue of insurance.

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