Ever been denied insurance coverage (or had your rates hiked up) for a preexisting condition? Or because certain illnesses run in your family? Well now you can be rejected for a condition that wasn’t even on your radar.
Over 700,000 Americans have already had genetic testing done to determine if they are at risk for certain diseases, like Alzheimer’s or some cancers. Naturally, once given the news that they are genetically predisposed to get a disease, people are much more likely to purchase insurance against future care needs. Insurance companies don’t like this. They make money on the uncertainty of the future: people who want protection against the possibility of becoming very ill, without yet knowing if they will be healthy or not. But when applicants know they have a higher chance of getting a disease, it stacks the deck against insurance companies. It’s not good for business.
Fortunately for insurers – and unfortunately for most everyone else – there is nothing stopping providers from seeing those test results for themselves. While federal law does prohibit genetic discrimination when purchasing health insurance, there’s no such protection when buying for long term care, disability, or life insurance. Even scarier, in some cases companies will require applicants to get tested before they even consider them for coverage. This eliminates much of their risk; anyone with the gene for Alzheimer’s, for example, can be flat out denied or offered rates so high as to be largely unaffordable. Since these are almost exactly the people who will use the coverage, there is a much lower risk of payout for the insurer. However, it leaves individuals with looming care expenses in a desperate situation.
A few states have protections in place for consumers, and Vermont has completely outlawed the practice. However, this is the exception to the rule. There are those that would have genetic discrimination banned nationwide, which could be very bad for everyone. If genetic testing results are for the consumers’ eyes only, insurance companies will inflate their rates against the higher risk they are taking. If you think insurance is unaffordable now, just wait.
While having a specific gene is not a guarantee of illness, nor is lacking the gene a guarantee of health, the insurance market will become woefully unbalanced and unstable. The urge to stick large companies with the bill is popular, but if there is no money to be made, insurers will stop writing policies. That leaves the common man with one less protection against the overwhelming reality of getting very sick later in life. With genetic testing on the cusp of a giant boom, the business of insuring people against their worst nightmares is more of a daydream than a reality.