Money: If the genes don't fit...

Insurance might be determined by genetic tests, warns Nic Cicutti

Insurance, we are often told, is bought, not sold, stuffed down the throats of reluctant clients by salesmen desperate to convince them of its merits.

But after this week, the prospect of a complete about-turn in the relationship between insurers and insured offers itself up instead. The potential for a new "insurance underclass", unable to obtain cover because genetic tests reveal the possibility of a particular disease, suddenly exists in the wake of a new policy statement by the insurers' trade body, the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The ABI this week announced that henceforth it will require anyone who has had a genetic test to reveal the findings to his or her insurer.

Its decision, presented as merely the distillation of existing practice, carries with it the potential for thousands of people to be told that the life cover, pension protection or health insurance they are seeking will either be denied to them or will cost considerably more to buy.

The ABI's statement was couched in a concessionary manner: prospective policyholders will not be required - yet - to take out compulsory tests when they apply for insurance cover.

New applicants for life insurance up to pounds 100,000 linked to buying a home, such as mortgage endowments, will see the results of any genetic testing disregarded even if they are to the detriment of the applicant.

Moreover, declared Tony Baker, the deputy director-general of the ABI, companies will be able to decide for themselves whether they wish to improve on the basic concessions made by his trade organisation.

"A number of companies have indicated that they will be building on the statement because their own circumstances will allow them to go further," he said.

Cornhill, one such company, immediately announced that the pounds 100,000 "disregard" of any genetic test result would be applied to any type of insurance, not just related to home purchase.

Virgin Direct has pledged to go further. It will not ask life insurance applicants for the results of any genetic tests, regardless of the sum insured.

Standard Life, the UK's biggest insurer, is going even further. The company said this week that for the foreseeable future it would not seek the result of any genetic tests from policyholders.

Noticeably, however, neither Virgin nor Standard Life is able to commit itself in perpetuity to this policy. Indeed, the ABI's own statement last week has a very limited time-frame of two years, after which period it will be reviewed again.

Central to the unwillingness to look further ahead than this is the changing nature of genetic testing itself. The science is currently at a very early stage. In the past two decades or so, a number of genetic tests have been available to identify a range of diseases. Doctors can already diagnose the most common single gene defects such as muscular dystrophy.

Up to now people have taken the tests if there is evidence of genetic disorder in their family. Companies had the right to ask for the results of such tests, although their relative lack of sophistication and the fact that they could be applied to so few diseases meant that there was little pressure on them to consider the issue in more depth.

All that has changed as the possibility of developing new "multi-factorial" tests opens up. These would be far more accurate in determining a person's predisposition to certain illnesses, as well as diagnosing their potential life expectancy. Experts say it will soon be possible to predict the risk of more common disorders such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, while heart disease and cancer may only be a few years away.

The dilemma of such successful testing, however, is that insurance companies fear they could be hit by policyholders who, aware of their potentially low life expectancy, use the knowledge of the results from their genetic tests to obtain vast amounts of cover for themselves.

Insurers argue that they could be selected by people who are more at risk. In turn, this would raise premiums for all policyholders, undermining the "principle of good faith on which insurance is based", as the ABI describes the choleric attitudes the insured usually feel towards their companies.

Conversely, geneticists and other experts argue people might be deterred from taking tests if they believe this could reduce the availability of insurance or raise the cost of cover. In particular, where life insurance is usually a standard demand by lenders, people could be denied a mortgage on their test results.

A British Medical Association spokeswoman argues: "We are worried about the extent to which genetic information, which can be extremely complex, could be misinterpreted.

"We are very pleased that the ABI has clearly stated that they will not be asking anyone to take a genetic test when they apply for life insurance.

"We remain worried about the increasing use of people's health information for non-health issues and would be concerned if people were discouraged from finding out more about their health needs because of fears about the social implications."

Insurers are keen to reassure us. The ABI promises that its members will treat all genetic information in a confidential, sensitive and responsible way. It has appointed Professor Sandy Raeburn, a leading geneticist at Nottingham University, to sit on its genetics committee, which will oversee the insurers' code of conduct.

All information passed to insurers by prospective policyholders will be analysed to see whether it contains information that might be used to determine the degree of risk that subsequently arises in relation to the outcome predicted by the test.

In this way, insurers hope to avoid a repeat of the late-80s AIDs debacle. Then, many companies asked questions about HIV tests and general lifestyle on their application forms. Cover was then denied to those who said they had taken a test, or premiums massively increased.

Years later, mortality rates showed that people were far less at risk than had been thought, by which time they had already paid through the nose for their cover.

Despite emollient words, the prospect of a similarly large group of people being discriminated against because of tests is there and is increasing. Genetic testing can only grow in importance and accuracy, with dire consequences for those most at risk.

Genetic facts at a glance

Genetic tests can predict a range of diseases, including Huntingdon's Chorea, and single-gene defects.

Scientists believe they will soon be able to have multi-factorial genetic tests which can accurately predict the likelihood of cancer and heart disease, among others.

Insurers worry that they may be targeted by people who insure against them without disclosing test results.

But scientists argue that tough disclosure rules may prevent people from taking the tests altogether.

The industry says it will disregard genetic tests, even if negative, on life cover for mortgage applications up to pounds 100,000.

Some companies go further, but warn they cannot sustain this indefinitely, as new tests become known.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

Where to look for returns in 2015: What will happen to stock markets?

The coming year is expected to provide opportunities for patient investors

Pension mortgages: 'The advice I was given was wrong and now I face losing my home'

It's a tale of wrongdoing by financial professionals and buck-passing by the regulators. Simon Read talks to a man who took out a pension mortgage

Simon Read: The point of having protection insurance? The right cover can help reduce your financial concerns at a time of extreme worry

In May Nicola Groves got a massive shock. The 45-year-old mother of two was told, bluntly, that she had breast cancer. "When I heard the words, 'You do have breast cancer and you are going to lose your breast', I felt as if time stood still," she says.

Mark Dampier: Maybe boom, maybe bust, but we'll probably just muddle along

It's that time again when the media looks back over the past year and forward to the next. I am reminded of an old film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Near the end of the film a newspaper prints two headlines – which one it uses will depend on whether the world is saved or doomed.

Sainsbury’s sank 7 per cent to 234p; Tesco fell 3.2 per cent to 180.2p ; and Morrisons dropped 5 per cent to 159.9p

Money Insider: Supermarkets: the real challenger banks

The supermarket banks have always excelled at offering simple, no nonsense products, and savings accounts is another area in which they fare well

Pat and Richard Astbury at their home in Norton Canes, Staffordshire. They have benefitted from the Community Energy Project aimed at helping council tenants with their energy bills. They have had solar panels installed.

Locals in Staffordshire to save hundreds after new council-backed project to install solar panels

The sun is shining on people who struggle to heat their homes and it’s thanks to a sense of community

Gross household debt reached a historic high of around 160 per cent of combined incomes in 2007

Simon Read: Give people struggling with debt some breathing space

Struggling people need help, understanding and forbearance, not ill-thought-out pronouncements

A person walks through the City of London during the early morning rush hour in London

Simon Read: Caught up in the scandal about leaks at the regulator

You won’t find me bashing the banks for the sake of it, but sadly they’ve deserved all the criticism that’s been sent their way in recent years

There were around 750,000 victims of mobile phone theft in England and Wales last year, according to official figures

Money alert: Stolen mobile phones

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice: 'The injustice of shock bills for crime victims must end. The Government must stand up for consumers and cap bills from lost or stolen phones at £50'

Indian workers boil sugarcane juice to make jaggery, a traditional cane sugar, at a jaggery plant in Muradnagar, Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad district

Mark Dampier: A hot investment story is taking shape as India lets the light in

Stirring the pot: the Indian Government’s reforms of labour rules offer hope of a brighter future for businesses 

An AA patrol man helping a woman whose scooter had broken down.

Bargain hunter: Whisk up those leftovers instead of just throwing them in the bin

Knight of the road, look out: you’ve got a new rival 

How to raise money for charity this Christmas

There are so many ways you can raise money - and awareness - for charity. Rob Griffin explains how easy it is to donate and reap financial rewards

Simon Read: The Chancellor has stamped on an unfair tax. But will the delight of homebuyers mean misery for others?

Were you surprised by the sudden reform of the rules for stamp duty on property purchases? I certainly was. I've been calling for ages for a change in the tax to make it more fair – and, at a stroke, George Osborne did just that on Wednesday in his Autumn Statement.

Santander, whose ads have been fronted by the Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill, was among the banks where there were potential pitfalls with shared licences

Best savings rates are not all they might seem

Consumers can sometimes think they are shopping around for a rewarding account when in one important aspect, writes Samantha Downes, they are not
The sunlit uplands: switching out of a final salary pension may seem like madness, but there could be cases where it makes sense

Gold-plated pensions – the key to retirement freedom?

With some people are weighing up whether they will be better off cashing in their final salary pension next spring, Samantha Downes asks the experts

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

    Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?