Patient Information

Insurance and Genetics

Current situation (mid 2007)

There has been considerable concern about how the insurance industry might use the results of predictive genetic tests (i.e. tests that tell you whether you are at risk of developing a condition in the future).

Concerns include whether insurance premiums will be unfairly high for someone who has had a genetic test that tells them they are at risk, and whether this worry in turn could stop people taking tests which would be useful for their healthcare.

The insurance industry has entered into a voluntary ban on using predictive genetic test results, until November 2011. The current situation (for life, critical illness and income protection insurance) is:

  • Insurers can use the results of diagnostic genetic tests: these tests are treated in the same way as any other medical diagnosis because they give information about an existing condition
  • Insurers cannot use adverse results of predictive genetic tests e.g. genetic tests taken without symptoms which have shown that you are at high risk e.g. of breast cancer (n.b. if you do have a strong family history, but you take a test and are shown not to have inherited the disease-causing gene in your family, you can choose to disclose this information when applying for insurance to “cancel out” your family history  – how insurers act in these situations might vary between companies)
  • The only exception to the “ban” on use of predictive test results is for high value policies i.e. for a payout of more than £500,000 for life insurance, £300,000 for critical illness or £30,000 per year for income protection predictive tests can be used in some circumstances (see below): more than 97% of policies bought in 2004 did not fall into this bracket
  • For high value policies, only predictive tests that have been specifically approved can be used.
  • So far the only predictive test that has been approved is for Huntington’s disease and only for life insurance (not other types of insurance).
  • Predictive genetic tests cannot be used for travel, private medical or long term care policies of any value
  • If you take any kind of genetic test as part of a research project insurers are not allowed to use this information
  • As with all types of medical test, if you take a predictive test after buying an insurance policy, this will not affect the premium you are paying; an insurer’s assessment of your application for insurance can only be made once, on the information available at the time.

If you have a family history or a pre-existing condition

Don’t assume that you won’t be able to get insurance, or that it will be too expensive. The vast majority of people manage to buy life insurance at standard rates. If you do have concerns it would be worth talking to an Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) about specialist insurance companies who are used to selling insurance to people at so-called “non-standard risk”.

In addition there are specialist IFAs who deal in life insurance (Special Risks Bureau, Risk Placement Services) and specialist advisors on travel insurance (Freedom) for people at non-standard risk.