Magazine article Workforce

Insuring Genetic Protection

Magazine article Workforce

Insuring Genetic Protection

Article excerpt

One of the most contentious areas of genetic testing promises to center on insurance. Although some experts believe major health underwriters probably won't alter their group medical coverage to any real degree, there's no guarantee. In the 1970s, AfricanAmericans with the sickle-cell trait were forced to pay more for insurance than their colleagues-who could've easily possessed genes contributing to a slew of other undetectable diseases.

"Insurance is a subject that scares a lot of people," says Karen Rothenberg, director of the Law and Healthcare Program at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. Indeed, it ripples far beyond the world of HMOs and primary care physicians. If genetic testing becomes a widespread reality, employers that are self-insured might be tempted to drop employees who pose a financial burden.

And for insurers underwriting life and disability policies, it could significantly alter the dynamics of the marketplace. "No insurance company wants to issue a policy to a person who has a high risk of disease," says Rebecca Locketz, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Workplace Rights Project in Princeton, New Jersey. Such a scenario could make certain types of insurance "unavailable or cost-prohibitive for certain people."

Another nettlesome issue is how genetic information should be managed. Private insurers typically object to individuals having medical information and not sharing it. Thomas H. Murray, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western University in Cleveland, refers to this as "adverse selection." Quite simply, it forces an insurance company to accept high-risk clients without charging a price reflective of the risk. Charging higher rates to those who are a good risk makes up the difference.

Nobody's exactly sure how insurance companies should administer genetically based tests. …

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