Life insurance and genetic testing


Genetic testing is a medical technology that helps determine what illnesses one may face in the future. This information is coveted by life insurers, worldwide, aid in their assessment of risk. Access to this information is controversial and relatively newer Canadian laws help protect consumer rights in this regard.

By Ripenjeet Sandhu
Insurance Advisor, LLQP
6 min read

Insurance providers want as much information as possible while underwriting your life insurance application. They focus on factors such as your historical health, family health, your habits, and more. As technology develops, more health information is becoming accessible to our insurers and ourselves. 

Genetic testing is a technology that enables doctors to determine what illnesses we may face in the future. This information can be crucial to life insurers who want to assess the risk of insuring you. But access to this information is controversial. 

This article discusses the relationship between life insurance and genetic testing. It reviews what genetic testing is, why it’s important to you and your insurer, and the Canadian laws surrounding the relationship.

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What is genetic testing?

There are currently over 77,000 genetic tests in use, according to Medline Plus. These tests identify genes, chromosomes, and proteins that can confirm or rule out certain conditions or determine your chances of developing a particular disorder. 

The procedure is usually noninvasive and commonly involves a blood test or cheek swab. However, there are limitations to what you can test for; current genetic testing won’t find any and all diseases you may face in the future. Additionally, positive results don’t guarantee you will develop the condition you test for. They provide the likelihood you may contract an illness, but not the certainty of it. 

Genetic testing helps you understand the information you don’t know about yourself. You can, therefore, prepare for cancers and other illnesses that may come in the future. Genetic testing can ultimately save your life by urging you to proactively discover health issues early on in your life. 

In recent years, at-home genetic tests have become popular. These kits usually cost $200-$300 and don’t require a prescription. They initially helped consumers determine their historical ancestry but have expanded to testing for personal, paternity, and family health. These kits provide some insight into your health but aren’t necessarily as accurate as clinic-based tests.

The importance of genetic tests to insurers

Life insurers base your premiums partly on the daily risks you face. 

Understanding whether you may or may not develop a life-threatening disease, therefore, interests an insurer. This information could lead them to increase premiums or deny coverage to those more likely to develop certain illnesses. Conversely, it could possibly reduce the premiums of someone whose genetic test rules out particular diseases, if an insurer was privy to this information.

Due to laws surrounding genetic testing in Canada (discussed later on), life insurers don’t always have access to your genetic testing information. Insurers argue that this places them at a disadvantage because consumers who know that they have predisposed illnesses via genetic test results will more willingly buy life insurance. As a result, some customers end up with a more favourable life insurance rating than if an insurance provider had this genetic information at their disposal.

The Canadian laws related to using genetic information

Canada passed Bill S201—The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (GNDA)—in 2017. This Bill prevents employers, insurance companies, and anyone else providing goods or services from asking people to undergo genetic testing or disclose prior results. So, insurers can’t legally ask for your genetic test results as part of your life insurance application. Those that do can face up to a $1 million fine or five-year imprisonment.

The law still allows insurers and other parties to collect genetic test results with consent. The Privacy Commission of Canada limits the collection to clear consent for explicitly specified and legitimate purposes. Your consent must further be in writing, fully informed, and freely given. Additionally, if the genetic test results become part of your medical record, your insurance company will have access to it. 

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the GNDA after various parties challenged the law. With the Supreme Court’s approval, the laws around genetic testing are more solidified, and there is a lower likelihood that they’ll be overturned in the future.

The pros and cons of genetic testing laws

There are many pros and cons of this law. Because there’s no need to disclose your results, Canadians may be more comfortable undergoing genetic testing to understand potential illnesses. Otherwise, some may resist getting tested in fear that their insurance premiums could increase or that they’ll become ineligible for a policy. Such fear may otherwise prevent Canadians from taking a genetic test that could save their life.

The legislation also has general privacy benefits. The insurance application process is generally an invasive procedure, with a corporation understanding all the nitty-gritty of your life. Barring their ability to mandate genetic testing lets consumers retain that aspect of their privacy. 

At the same time, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries claims that premiums might rise 50 percent for women and 30 percent for men because of this law. Life insurers claim those who’ve tested with positive results have an incentive to purchase life insurance. Insurers, as a result, have may increase premiums in anticipation of this phenomenon.

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Should you get genetic testing?

The decision to get genetic testing done is ultimately up to you. It’s best to speak to a medical professional about how testing could impact your health. A specialist can give you an idea of what to expect from the process and the benefits and drawbacks of genetic testing in your specific situation. 

As discussed, Canadian law prohibits your insurance provider from using the results of your genetic testing to influence its underwriting or your premiums. However, if you do undergo medical procedures based on information you receive from your genetic testing, you must reveal this to your potential insurance provider. They are entitled to know about any surgeries or prescription medications you may start to treat a medical condition you discovered because of genetic testing.

An experienced insurance broker understands which insurers are best for your application and can find a provider that better accommodates your situation, should genetic testing change your health profile. Please speak to one of our brokers today to learn more about how genetic testing can influence your premiums and find an insurer that’s right for you.

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  • Genetic testing helps determine illnesses and diseases you are more likely to contract.
  • Insurance companies would like to use this information as they say it provides that much more accurate medical information to help them determine premiums, both lower and higher.
  • Canadian Bill S201—The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (GNDA) helps protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and ensures they are control of their sensitive genetical medical data.

By Ripenjeet Sandhu
Insurance Advisor, LLQP

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