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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Genetic test 'moratorium' call
The MPs looked at how insurance companies can use genetic tests
The MPs looked at how insurance companies can use genetic tests
MPs are calling for the use of genetic tests by UK insurers to be suspended for at least two years.

The moratorium should help restore consumer confidence in an industry which has sadly rushed in to exploit a science in its infancy

Andrew Stronach,
Virgin Direct
The Commons Science and Technology Committee want a voluntary ban by the industry on using positive results from tests, which, it is feared, could increase premiums

But they say the ban should not apply to negative test results, which can show a person is free of a condition.

A report published by the committee on Tuesday called for more research to be carried out into the relevance of genetic test results to the assessment of insurance premiums.

'Genetic underclass'

If the insurance industry is unwilling to implement the moratorium itself, the MPs are calling on the government to enforce a ban via legislation.

They warned that the use of positive tests, without proper safeguards, could create a "genetic underclass" of people, unable to get insurance. And they said the government and the insurance industry should together provide an alternative form of insurance for those people.

The report also states insurance companies have been wrong to rely on genetic tests which have not been approved by the government's Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC).

The GAIC has only approved the use of a test for Huntington's chorea.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has asked the committee to consider tests for early-onset Alzheimer's and hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

Independent decisions

However, the ABI says results from those tests can be taken into account by insurers.

The MPs criticised the insurance industry's current stance, and said; it "failed to give clear and straightforward information about its policy on the use of genetic test results to the public and appears to be uncertain itself about what exactly its policy is."

The report also calls for the GAIC to be revamped to ensure it and its decisions are independent of the insurance industry.

A Mori poll, carried out for the Human Genetics Commission found only 8% of people wanted insurers to have access to test results.

Negative tests

Dr Lynne Jones, a member of the select committee, told BBC News Online: "At the present time, there's no real justification for loading premiums on the basis of genetic tests.

"The only use of these tests could be that people who have a negative test can obtain insurance for standard rates.

"But if you've got the result of a genetic test, it doesn't actually tell you you have the condition, it just tells you there is a genetic risk."

She said people should be encouraged to take the tests.

Mary Francis, director general of the ABI, said: "We cannot lightly ignore information that tells us someone applying for insurance is at significantly higher risk than the majority of policyholders."

She said people were normally charged according to risk, such as their age or medical history, and said the ABI would be looking closely at the committee's recommendations.

Financial pressure

Many of the main insurance companies use all the ABI-approved tests, though Standard Life, Virgin Direct and the Co-op Insurance Society only consider negative results, a stance praised by the committee.

Virgin Direct's Andrew Stronach said: "The moratorium should help restore consumer confidence in an industry which has sadly rushed in to exploit a science in its infancy.

"The simple fact is that genetic testing currently offers little or no advantage to calculating life insurance premiums and the industry has done itself no favours by adopting a piecemeal policy on the use of such tests at the expense of public confidence."

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) urged the insurance industry to adopt the proposed moratorium and said it feared the current policy could deter people from having tests.

Jenny Reid of the ICRF said: "We are aware of anecdotal evidence that some individuals who have been referred to a genetic clinic for tests, because of a strong family history of cancer, have not attended for fear that they would be denied insurance, or that they would be unable to meet increased premiums, as a result of having a positive genetic test.

"For many people the decision to take a genetic test can be a very difficult one.

"People should not have the added pressure of incurring possible financial penalties as a result of taking tests that may help improve their long-term health."

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Insurers against genetic test ban
07 Feb 01 | Health
Genetic tests 'ripe for abuse'
07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Firms face genes test quiz
27 Nov 00 | Health
Genetic data 'insurance fear'
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