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Insurance Summit: Genetic testing could lead to lower premiums

Genetic testing can reveal a wealth of information that can guide health care providers to better diagnoses and treatments for their patients.

That same information could help insurance companies write better, and possibly less expensive, life insurance policies.

That’s the rub. Most people are OK with their doctors knowing every detail about their health, but they don’t want that same information factored in when they’re shopping for an insurance policy.

Lawmakers grappled with the genetic testing issue in the 2019 Legislative Session, putting forward a bill that would stop life insurers from yanking, lifting or denying coverage based on test results from companies like 23andMe.

Though the 2019 bill stalled in its third Senate committee, there’s no indication the issue is going away.

During the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Summit, a panel of industry experts moderated by Holland & Knight’s Josh Aubuchon discussed the benefits — and the pitfalls — that come along with regulating the privacy of genetic tests.

Dave Rengachary, a medical doctor who works for reinsurance company RGA, said it’s important to keep in mind what genetic tests contain. Put simply, test results are “information derived from things such as DNA, RNA or other proteins.”

The results can prove relevant in a couple of ways: It can tell individuals what their risk factors are, or it can inform them they already have a condition.

Rengachary said the same information could be gleaned through other means, such as nongenetic testing or medical imaging, but if laws block insurers from knowing the results of genetic tests while still allowing them access to other avenues of diagnosis, it produces an unfair market for the consumer.

“Let’s say we have the same disease,” Rengachary said. “His was detected through pictures. Mine was detected through a genetic test. Is there any logical reason we should be treated differently?”

Florida Insurance Council President Cecil Pearce compared the dilemma to car insurance.

Auto insurers place drivers with clean records in one pool and those with a pile of traffic tickets in another. Pearce said that makes it “fair” to drivers and insurers — good drivers aren’t forced to subsidize riskier ones, and insurers are able to effectively calculate risk.

“Imagine if insurers didn’t have access to driving histories,” he said.

One of the more sensationalized aspects of the genetic testing debate are off-the-shelf and mail order kits that advertise being able to tell people what part of the world their ancestors came from.

If there was a data breach at a genetic testing company, some worry that information could be used against them. Some also fear those companies could sell their data to the highest bidder.

While consumer testing kits are the same as any other genetic test, at least in principle, James Madison Institute VP Sal Nuzzo said he doesn’t think “anybody in the context of policy is saying insurance should be able to buy that data.”

He added, “at the end of the day, insurance — whether it’s health, life, property — it’s a good. So, we’re talking about whether an insurer can use genetic information to ‘ding’ a consumer. Well, there’s a flip side to that.”

Still, Nuzzo said the worst thing Florida could do would be to pass an outright ban on using genetic tests for actuarial decisions.

If lawmakers do, he said insurance agents across the country will give all their clients the same advice: “Take a weeklong vacation in the state of Florida and buy a $1 million life insurance policy while you’re there.”

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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