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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
'Moratorium' on genetic data use
Chromosomes
Some worry about the creation of a "genetic underclass"
The government has announced a five-year moratorium on the use of genetic test results by insurers, following an agreement with the Association of British Insurers (ABI).


I want to make it very clear that if there is evidence of serious and persistent non compliance by the insurance industry, then the Government is prepared to enforce the moratorium, through legislation if necessary

Lord Hunt, Department of Health

The agreement will mean that someone with a genetic disorder can obtain unlimited life, critical illness and long-term care cover unless the test for that genetic disease is recognised by the government's Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC).

So far, the only authorised test is for Huntingdon's disease.

There is widespread concern that the use of genetic tests by insurers could create a "genetic underclass", and deter people from genetic tests who could benefit from them.

The government has decided against legislation, and it will be up to the ABI to monitor insurers' compliance with the new rules, although there is expected to be an independent monitoring element.

New agreement

Mary Francis, director general of the ABI, said: "The ABI is committed to playing a full and constructive role. We now have the breathing space to get this policy right and achieve agreement on the best way forward."

The details of the agreement announced so far:

  • A five-year moratorium on the general use of DNA genetic test results by insurers from 1 November 2001.

  • Tests that are authorised by the GAIC for life policies of over 500,000 and other insurance policies of more than 300,000.

  • A review of the financial limits after three years.

  • ABI must monitor the companies' compliance with its Code and moratorium, with annual publication of the ABI's compliance report.

    Government warning

    The agreement was welcomed by Lord Hunt on behalf of the Department of Health.

    He said: "The moratorium will ensure that genetics and insurance issues can be progressed in an environment of mutual respect between all the main interests and I look forward to a continuing dialogue with the ABI and those who have an interest in this subject."

    But he added: "I want to make it very clear that if there is evidence of serious and persistent non compliance by the insurance industry, then the Government is prepared to enforce the moratorium, through legislation if necessary."

    Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, chair of the Human Genetics Commission, said: "We welcome the Government's reassurance that there will be mechanisms in place to deal with transgressions, and that an independent tribunal will be set up, which may impose unlimited fines.

    "Only if the moratorium enjoys public trust will it reassure those having a genetic test that they needn't worry about the implications for their insurance."

  • See also:

    03 Apr 01 | Health
    Genetic test 'moratorium' call
    07 Feb 01 | Health
    Genetic tests 'ripe for abuse'
    07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
    Insurers against genetic test ban
    22 Jan 01 | Business
    The price of having the wrong genes
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