Genetic testing threatens the insurance industry. The gene is out of the bottle

If a genetic test could tell whether you are at increased risk of getting cancer or Alzheimer’s, would you take it? As such tests become more accessible, more and more people are saying “yes”. The insurance industry faces a few headaches as a result. insurers fear that without equal access to such information, they will lose out to savvy customers. Consumer groups, on the other hand, fear that if underwriters did have access to such information, people with “bad” genes might find themselves unfairly excluded from cover. Either way, the scientific advances could well disrupt insurance significantly. Because predictive tests—unlike diagnostic ones—often need not be disclosed, the customer can secure an advantage over a future insurer. So underwriters warn that predictive genetic testing could well lead to adverse selection. The New York Times recently reported on a woman who bought long-term care insurance after testing positive for ApoE4, a mutation of a gene related to increased risk of Alzheimer’s. The insurer had tested her memory three times before issuing the policy, but could not know about the genetic result. Robert Green, at Harvard University, found that people told they have the mutation were five times more likely to buy long-term care insurance than those without such information.