Insurance Fears and Genetic Testing

Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting story by Amy Harmon about people who choose not to undergo genetic diagnostic testing, or try to keep their results a secret, out of fear that they will lose their health coverage.

But the letters in response to that story, published in this Sunday’s paper, may be even more interesting. Some argue that patients’ fears of genetic testing are unfounded, because there are some existing state and federal laws that protect people from discrimination based on genetics and other grounds. One points out that insurance companies have an incentive to embrace genetic testing because of its utility in guiding cost-saving screening and preventive care. And others suggest that single-payer health care might make patients a lot more comfortable with releasing their genetic information.

Though 23andMe does not offer diagnostic testing itself, we hope these issues can be worked out so that people don’t have to be afraid of information that may help them and their physicians manage their healthy behavior and health care more effectively. The availability of clinically relevant genetic testing is only going to grow in the future, and we need a health care system that can incorporate this useful and potentially cost-saving information for the benefit of patients.


  • Subho

    Well, I think that access to genetic information would be scary (or attractive) to both patients and insurers. If an insurer gets a hand on the patient’s information, the patient might worry whether his insurance would be in trouble. On the other hand, if the patient gets access to the information, and not the insurer, the patient can buy a big insurance in time, putting the insurer at odd.

    Now that sequencing gets cheaper, genetic information would be abundant in the coming days. But I don’t see a problem there. The car-insurance does depend on the driving history, age and experience of the driver (at least in Europe), much like the genetic make-up and disease-history of a person.

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