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Genetic testing and life insurance

The results of your genetic test can affect your coverage — but you don't have to take one.

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.

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 your health, family medical history, job, lifestyle and any other factors that can help it to determine your risk level. If you’ve taken a genetic test before getting life insurance using home kits like 23andme, and — or by the request of a doctor — it could reveal relevant information that affects your rates and/or eligibility.

How can genetic testing impact the process of buying life insurance?

Insurers assess your application holistically, so the results of your genetic test are just one thing it looks at. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Your insurer will use it to determine your risk. Insurers may factor in the results of your genetic test, alongside your family medical history, to calculate your risk.
  • Your insurer may adjust your rate accordingly. Genetic testing might lead to higher premiums or lower premiums, or more or less favorable policy terms.
  • You may run into restrictions and exclusions. The results of your genetic test may cause your insurer to offer you a lower 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 make decisions about an applicant’s premiums or eligibility for coverage based on the results of genetic testing. But it doesn’t affect life insurance companies, or long-term care providers. In these sectors, insurers have the right to request medical information as part of the application process — though this hasn’t become standardized yet.

That being said, 14 states have laws extending GINA’s protection beyond health coverage, according to Bloomberg Law. These include Arizona, Wyoming, California, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

The level of consumer protection varies. For example, in Florida and North Carolina, insurers are only forbidden from discriminating against consumers with specific genetic traits, while New Jersey prohibits the practice entirely.

When can genetic testing lead to lower life insurance 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 rely on your family history alone.

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What information do you need to disclose to your insurer?

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll need to reveal the health of your first degree relatives. Some insurers only consider your parents, while others will want to know about your siblings’ and children’s health, too. This information is required for most life insurance applications — regardless of whether you’ve taken a predictive genetic test.

If you’ve undergone testing and the results are pending, you’ll also need to disclose this to your insurer. Your insurer may wait for the result before proceeding with an application. If you don’t have a life insurance policy yet, you may opt to get one before you do any genetic testing, unless you think your results will be more favorable than your family history.

When don’t I have to tell my insurer about a genetic test?

You don’t need to tell your insurer you’ve had a genetic test in these situations:

  • 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 you 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?

No. You’re not required to undergo genetic testing before taking out life insurance.

What if I find myself prone to a genetic condition?

Insurers will treat this in the same way as they do preexisting conditions. They’ll 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.

How to protect your DNA data

Before taking a genetic test, read the privacy policy carefully to understand if — and how — your sensitive data will be used and disseminated.

Some companies that sell at-home DNA tests are licensed to sell your data — which means it could be given to third-party entities you don’t know or like. If this is a concern, search for a company that explicitly states they don’t sell the data discovered in your DNA test.

Any genetic tests you do at a medical facility are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. Though it’s a good idea to ask your doctor how the results will be analyzed, and who will have access to those to make sure you’re comfortable.

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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