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Test that can ruin chances of getting life insurance could also revolutionize health care?

Brian Anderson

What could ruin a person’s chances for getting life insurance, but could “revolutionize” health care?

As an insurance professional, you’ve likely solved this riddle: Genetic testing.

There have been a few articles hitting the Internet in recent days that underscore the drawbacks and the potential of genetic testing, which may be poised to explode in the coming decade if life & health insurers have anything to say about it.

But it’s certainly not there yet. The website STAT reported in February that a STAT-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found a large majority of Americans oppose more futuristic uses of genetics, such as creating “designer babies” by altering the DNA of embryos, but even said that genetic technologies available today are not being widely adopted. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie have endorsed testing to identify genetic variants that raise the risk of disease, and companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com market their tests to consumers. Still, only 50% of Americans say they have heard or read about genetic testing, the poll found.

Only 6% of adults say they have undergone genetic testing. Of that group, 35% were driven by concerns about their future children’s health problems, 25% by a desire to learn more about their heritage or family history, and 18% by concerns about their own future health problems. Of those tested, 81% said it was “helpful” and only 10% said it was not.

“Until we have more large-scale studies showing the benefits of genetic testing, I doubt there will be much push to perform these tests,” said New Jersey family medicine practitioner Dr. Linda Girgis in the STAT article.

Another article points out via a case study that genetic testing can potentially be used against a person with or seeking life insurance coverage. The American Genius website posted a piece Feb. 29 saying that their own COO had to have genetic counseling to discover not only her unborn child’s genetic issues, but also those of the parents. The article implies that this person is now being “punished” by her life insurance company due to the results. From the piece:

While the federal government has barred health insurance companies from denying coverage to those with a risky gene mutation, the law doesn’t extend to life insurance companies, long-term care, or disability insurance.

Of course, many life insurance companies do not require you to undergo genetic testing before approving you, they may ask if you’ve done any of these test on your own. This information can then be used against you when you apply. If you choose to withhold this information and they find out, they may have a case against you for “guilt by omission.”

At least one bio-tech startup in Seattle – Arivale – is “all in” on the potential of using DNA tests to create a personalized preventive health care plan.

“I think it’s fundamentally going to change the world,” Arivale founder Dr. Lee Hood told KIRO-7 TV in Seattle. “We’re entering a new era where we can be what we have the potential to be.”

The story calls Arivale’s approach a state-of-the-art, scientific approach to wellness, and goes on to say Dr. Hood is a pioneer in the bio-tech industry and the brain behind Arivale. The 74-year-old has created more than a dozen companies, including the world’s largest bio-tech firm, Amgen.

Arivale raised $36 million in initial funding in 2015, and went public with the service last summer.

The company is anticipating a massive increase in members, as word of the technology gets out, according to the KIRO story. From the piece:

“A year from now, we’ll be in the thousands,” said Arivale CEO Clayton Lewis. “Five years from now, we’ll be in the millions. People want to take control of their well-being.”

But taking control with a personalized plan is expensive. Joining Arivale costs $4,000 for the genetic work-up and one year of data analysis and coaching. Health insurance doesn’t cover any of it.

Arivale hopes the falling costs of genetic testing will allow it to cut the price to less than $1,000 in five years.

In the meantime, the bio-tech startup is approaching private companies about offering the program to employees and subsidizing the cost.

Surely insurance companies are keeping a close eye on advances being made in the genetic testing arena. If predictive analytics has the potential to help identify risks by efficiently mining and analyzing big data, just think about the potential genetic testing has to predict individual risk with quite a bit more certainty.

• Thoughts on the topic? Please share them on this new thread: Genetic testing and its potential impact



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