What Does That Gene Mean?

Learning the Relationship of Genetics and Life Insurance

byMeredith Morris

Series. HOT Qs

October 31, 2019 .2 min read

Lately, it seems as though genetic testing is all the craze.  With 1 in 8 women in the United States developing breast cancer in her lifetime, many women are doing genetic testing to see if they are more at risk based on family history. The BRCA gene has been found to increase a person’s chances of developing breast cancer, and many doctors are recommending women undergo genetic testing to see if they have the gene mutation. 

With direct to consumer (DTC) sites like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com providing the ability to do this type of testing all from the comforts of your home, it is not surprising that so many are flocking to see their health traits, genealogy, and ancestry. But are these tests really as helpful as they seem to appear?  

In the past, these types of tests were requested through your doctor or genetic counselor and might include testing for a range of issues.  Since genetic testing can spark a wide range of emotions, having a health practitioner discuss the testing procedure, results and costs can be a comfort. With the new direct to consumer types of tests, it is not so easy to determine what the results mean and how they might affect your decisions long term.  

Genetic testing can also bring up many emotional, social or financial concerns as well.  Many fear they could experience discrimination from their employer, experience family tension and even have their ability to be insured effected. And, the results of these tests, while informative, might not address the action steps you should consider taking now that you have this information.     

When it comes to the financial impact, discussing the reasons for getting the test and the expected cost of lab tests are a great start. You can even reach out to your health insurance company to discuss how your plan will cover the needed tests.   

In the US, genetic information is governed by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which means that group health plans and insurers can’t deny coverage based solely on a genetic predisposition to developing a disease in the future. However, your medical records may contain information that might be considered. Fortunately, genetic information is handled with the same confidentiality as other sensitive health information.  

When it comes to your life insurance, life insurance companies will also never ask that you take genetic tests. They typically rely on family history and medical records to inform them about your health. Life insurance companies evaluate one’s insurability by looking at the whole picture, not just the medical concerns. Potential future risks are considered, but so are measures taken through lifestyle modification. 

Regardless, it is always a smart thing to secure your insurability as early as possible, even if that is by purchasing term insurance.  Look for a policy that is convertible, so that as your financial situation evolves, you can convert that term into permanent coverage. This will ensure you have coverage for your entire life, even if health issues do arise down the line. It’s never too early to think about protecting you and your loved ones.

There are many great reasons to undergo using genetics as a way to be more knowledgeable and prepared, but be sure you are working with a reputable genetic testing company and always check their privacy terms. And don’t forget, your health professional can be a great ally in helping to understand the results you get and to help guide you on your best next steps.