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The BBC's Andrew Verity
"Insurance companies say if they do not ask for test could bankrupt them"
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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 05:29 GMT
Firms face genes test quiz
Genetic test
MPs fear people will be put off having tests
Insurance companies are to be questioned by MPs about their insistence that customers should reveal the results of genetic tests.

The House of Commons science and technology committee fears this could lead to an underclass of people who cannot obtain life cover because of their genetic make-up.

Scientists are becoming more successful in pinpointing the genes which can make the carrier susceptible to hereditary diseases and many people with a family history of an illness elect to have a test so they can seek early medical help.

Scientist carries out a genetic test
Scientists are learning more about hereditary diseases
A person carrying the gene which may trigger a disease will not necessarily develop that illness but nevertheless, some insurers will only offer a very expensive policy or none at all.

MPs are concerned that this could deter people from taking tests or create an group of people without access to basic financial services.

The committee will ask representatives of several companies including the Prudential and Norwich Union how these eventualities can be avoided.

The industry has a code of practice which states:

  • insurance companies cannot ask people to take a genetic test

  • they can, in some circumstances, ask for the results if someone has already had one.

  • when the policy concerns life insurance for less than 100,000 in cover for a new mortgage, test results are not needed.

A number of insurance companies, including Standard Life, the Co-operative and Virgin Direct, do not use genetic test results.

Code 'flouted'

However other insurers say they have to ask for test results in order to assess properly the risk of insuring a customer.

They argue that if they did not take such details into account, the eventual costs could bankrupt them.

The committee of MPs will ask representatives of the Prudential, the Norwich and the Co-op about their policies.

Last month, the British Medical Association said it was concerned about the impact of genetic testing on insurance.

It is worried that the insurance industry's current position is potentially confusing to customers - and that in the longer term, more people will find it harder to get insurance.

The BMA said it had received anecdotal evidence that some companies were flouting the code and pressuring people to take tests.

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | Health
Genetic tests 'ripe for abuse'
22 Jan 01 | Business
The price of having the wrong genes
27 Nov 00 | Health
Genetic data 'insurance fear'
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