Genetic testing and life insurance

A detailed genetic profile can affect your life insurance coverage.

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Genetic testing can have a significant impact on your life insurance policy and how you approach getting or maintaining coverage. Some states have laws in place that don’t allow life insurance providers to use genetic testing information to deny coverage, but you may still have to share the results.

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How does genetic testing affect my ability to get life insurance?

When you take out a life insurance policy you’re obligated to let the insurer know about matters which could affect the risk they take by offering insurance. Using home kits like 23andme or, or by the request of a doctor, could surface relevant information that affects your rates and/or eligibility.

Also, because most applications often include a section requiring you to provide details of your family’s medical history, the results of a genetic test you had done may be deemed necessary to complete your application.

Here’s a summary of what you can expect:

  • Risk assessment.
    Insurers may consider the results alongside your family medical history when determining risk.
  • Rates changes.
    Genetic testing might lead to higher premiums or lower premiums and might lead to more or less favorable policy terms.
  • Restrictions and exclusions.
    Testing may lead to a reduced coverage period or exclusions for a particular condition.

How does the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act work?

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was put into place in 2008. GINA makes it illegal for health insurance providers to deny coverage based on genetic testing. Life insurance providers, however, aren’t affected by it.

I’ve submitted my genetic test. Now what?

Sometimes this information can lead to higher premiums, additional policy exclusions or even being outright denied coverage by an insurer. Conversely, it can also lead to lower premiums or other more favorable policy terms.

Negative changes that can happen include:

  • A higher premium
  • Exclusions for specific medical conditions
  • Offer you a different policy
  • Complete denial of coverage

When can genetic testing lead to lower premiums?

When you’re applying for life insurance, genetic tests can provide a better picture of your health. Sometimes genetic tests show another side of your family history, in which case it may “override” your family history and lead to lower premiums or other more advantageous policy terms. Without genetic testing, you may have to simply rely on your family history.

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When must you disclose when it comes to genetic testing?

Generally, you’ll always be required to disclose what you know about your first degree relative’s (parents, siblings, children) medical history to insurers, regardless of if you’ve undergone predictive genetic tests. However, if you’ve undergone testing and results are pending, then you’ll need to disclose this to your insurer. Your insurer will typically wait for the result before proceeding with an application.

Are there situations where I won’t need to disclose my results?

Several situations may allow you to not disclose a genetic test.

  • You’ve given a blood sample, but testing hasn’t commenced. You have the right to withdraw your consent to testing at any time prior to the laboratory starting the process. If you withdraw your consent, then you’re not required to say that you’ve had a genetic test, even though you’ve given blood samples.
  • You’ve exercised your “right not to know”. If you’ve exercised your right not to know the results of any genetic test, you’re not required to disclose that you had it.
  • DNA banking. This is when someone provides a sample for testing to be done in the future, for the benefit of their family members. You don’t know the results and don’t have to disclose that you underwent the test.

What if I undergo genetic testing for research purposes?

If you undergo genetic testing for research purposes, your disclosure obligations might depend on follow-ups. Prior to testing, researchers should explain if you’ll receive personal results — or if you can opt out of receiving them.

If you don’t receive any personal or family information from the research, you’re not required to disclose that had a test. If you receive a personal result from the research, it’s considered the same as having a clinical genetic test and you’re required to disclose it to insurers.

In some cases, you may be contacted later down the road with results. If this happens, you’ll be required to disclose the results if you haven’t applied or your application is being processed.

Is genetic testing compulsory?

You’re not required to undergo genetic testing before taking out life insurance, although it’s possible insurers might request it.

What if I find myself prone to a genetic condition?

Insurers will want to know about preventative measures you might be taking, and may consider these as well. For example, someone might be found at an unusually high risk of heart disease — in which case that person may be able to explain that they regularly take blood cholesterol tests, consult a dietitian and generally take steps to manage the issue.

This person might then be able to access better policy terms than someone who isn’t taking any steps to manage the same health issue.

Bottom line

Genetic testing can affect your health insurance premiums if your application hasn’t been started or is pending. Whether you decide to go through with a home testing kit before you apply for life insurance is ultimately up to you — but you may want to compare your options ahead of time.

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