Australians fear 'genetic discrimination' in life insurance

| 15 May 2023

Some Australians continue to be deterred from genetic testing due to life insurance concerns, and some who have tested positive for adult-onset conditions have faced difficulties accessing life insurance, a paper has claimed.

This is despite a 2019 life insurance industry self-regulated and partial Financial Services Council moratorium that restricted the use of genetic results within underwriting up to certain limits, according to the paper published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, entitled “Community concerns about genetic discrimination in life insurance persist in Australia: A survey of consumers offered genetic testing”, that was contributed to by researchers at numerous Australian research centres.

Researchers carried out an online survey of individuals who had either taken or been offered genetic testing for adult-onset conditions. Just 4% of the respondents said they believed the use of genetic testing in life insurance should be allowed. The vast majority (88%) of survey respondents said they would support regulation legislation by the government, the research found.

Meanwhile, just 16% were aware of the current moratorium, and only 17% knew that it is legal to use genetic testing results in life insurance underwriting.

Most of the 367 survey respondents (89%) had taken a test and received a positive test result, with almost 30% having tested after 1 July 2019.

Findings also demonstrated that some people at risk of being genetically predisposed to “medically-actionable” conditions are turning down genetic testing due to “insurance discrimination fears”, researchers said.

“Of particular concern were reports that consumers continue to have difficulty accessing life insurance products, and still experience discrimination based on genetic test results, even after the introduction of the FSC moratorium,” the researchers said. “Several respondents commented on the failure of insurers to consider preventive measures, and some respondents reported experiencing discrimination even after taking preventive measures.”

Private health insurers are unable to use genetic test results to discriminate against applicants, but there is an exception for life insurance under section 46 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which allows them to use the results in underwriting so long as they are supported by actuarial data or “other relevant factors”, the paper said, reported Insurance Business.