Money: Letting the gene out of the bottle
Genetic tests may not affect your insurance premiums - yet. Tom Tickell reports; Widespread genetic testing may mean higher premiums for some but better terms for everyone else
Sunday 23 February 1997
Under these guidelines, anyone applying for life insurance will be required to give details of any genetic testing they have had - if asked to do so. At the moment companies guarantee to ignore the results when setting premiums if you want a policy giving enough insurance to cover a mortgage of less than pounds 100,000. But this agreement will only last for two years, when the industry will look at it again.
Very few people actually have genetic tests now, because they will only show up illnesses like cystic fibrosis or Huntingdon's Chorea, which reflect defects in a single gene. But as research improves, forecasting the risk of other problems like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes may become possible. Even testing a propensity to cancer or heart disease may be just a few years off.
Big insurers including Standard Life, Scottish Widows, Commercial Union and Royal Sun Alliance have been quick to announce that they are not going to ask whether potential customers have had genetic tests.
Doctors maintain that forced disclosure could easily ensure people do not take tests in the first place - as happened with HIV tests and Aids. Eventually, questions on whether people had had an HIV test disappeared from insurance forms, under pressure from the British Medical Association.
Peter Robertson, assistant general manager at Standard Life, says: "If anyone wants to take out an endowment policy designed to pay out pounds 100,000 or more, we'll usually want a doctor's report. It will contain details of height and weight, the age at which their parents died and so on. That provides most of the information genetic testing would give us."
Bupa and PPP, which together make up 70 per cent of the private medical insurance market, are taking the same line. PPP insists it will not ask for the results of genetic testing for the foreseeable future.
Genetic testing is relatively crude at present, but insurers' attitudes may change as it becomes more sophisticated. That said, environment and lifestyle play such a part in triggering illness that it will not be easy.
As things stand, 95 per cent of people get life insurance on standard terms while 4 per cent have premiums loaded for the extra risk they represent. One applicant in a hundred gets turned down. Widespread genetic testing may increase the number paying extra premiums, but it will also allow companies to offer better terms to everyone else.
Even now, working out the extra costs you face as a result of a problem such as diabetes is almost impossible. "Loadings depend on the insurer, the kind of life insurance you want and how serious your diabetes happens to be," says Penny O'Nions, a doctor turned independent financial adviser. "If you take out a 'term' policy to pay out if you die within a fixed 10 or 15 years, you may pay 10 to 25 per cent more than usual.
"Endowment plans are different as most of your funds go into investment, and relatively little into providing life insurance. That ensures insurers will not load premiums nearly so heavily."
Actuaries spend their lives putting figures on risk levels - but even if genetic testing could find a cancer gene, that would not necessarily help them. For instance, cancer of the prostate usually hits older people - often after their life insurance policy has finished its term.
Last week's announcement by the ABI was a holding operation. Many people in the insurance industry say privately that if genetic testing becomes so sophisticated it can spot risk levels on serious illnesses, it may become as standard as a blood test in 10 to 15 years' time.
Even now, anyone with a potential medical problem should probably deal through a specialist independent financial adviser rather than buy life cover direct from a company. If one insurer rejects you, others may follow. And in the brave new world of genetic testing, specialist help will be still more important.
q Contacts: Penny O'Nions (de Havilland Amersham), 01494 726688; George Connolly (Healthcare Matters), 01300 320222; John Joseph Medical Partnership, 0171 487 4111.
educationTo mark International Women's Day, Sarah Brown on how charities have brought proper joined-up thinking to the delivery of education
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Sir Patrick Stewart patches into David Cameron and Barack Obama's Ukraine talks with packet of wet wipes
- 4 Study suggests that 'gaydars' are real - at least for women
- 5 Man stabbed with Legend of Zelda Master Sword in serious condition
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
iJobs Money & Business
£32000 - £36000 per annum + generous benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: * TAX * ...
£37000 - £40000 per annum + £20000 benefits package: Pro-Recruitment Group: **...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + generous benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Mixed Ta...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Personal Tax, FTS...
Day In a Page
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square
A charming four-bedroom house overlooking Burleigh Square Park, close to Thorpe Bay
A three-bedroom farmhouse with a large inglenook fireplace and exposed beams
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000
A two-bedroom flat with an open plan kitchen and two balconies, close to Arsenal station
A Grade II-listed home with six bedrooms, secluded landscaped gardens and views across Hadley Green
A Grade II-listed mansion with two apartments and a cottage, near Gretna Green
A three-bedroom Grade II-listed mews house with vaulted ceilings and roof garden
A spacious Grade II-listed family home with annexe and equestrian facilities among four acres of land in Itchingfield
A four-bedroom home with exposed brick walls and open fires in the picturesque village of Northill
A Grade II-listed property with five bedrooms and unique tower, overlooking Hastings Old Town
A charming five-bedroom detached family home, set within half an acre in Kew