Life Insurers Rely on Medical Records, Not At-Home Genetic Tests

Aug 16, 2019

Welcome, consumer-based genetic testers, to Washington, D.C. This town could use a briefing on exactly how you’re handling your customers’ personal information.

Please include in your Talking Points a big bullet that says:

  • America’s life insurers have no access to the results of direct-to-consumer genetic tests.

And, please add that they don’t want it. Call them old fashioned or traditional, but in the underwriting process, life insurers rely on verified, doctor-ordered information found in an applicant’s medical record. This information will help dispel the myth that our respective industries are in cahoots.  Ethnicity tests, for example, provide life insurers no usable information.

But, make no mistake: doctor-ordered genetic information is vitally important. It is making its way into people’s medical records more and more.

MDs are sending patients to specialized labs, seeking test results to obtain a better picture of patients’ medical conditions. These tests are greatly improving diagnostics and leading to better treatments of illnesses. The findings are adding to the wide range of factors considered by life insurers — height and weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking status and medical history, among others.

It only makes sense for a life insurer to have a full picture of an applicant’s medical condition. Unlike health insurers, life insurers only have one opportunity to evaluate a person. They have to get it right the first and only time they set a premium.

As recently noted in Forbes, if life insurers don’t get it right, “premiums for everyone across the board could become unaffordable.”  It helps explain why landmark health insurance legislation – the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, passed by Congress in 2008 – was not extended to life insurers. Still, the industry is among the most heavily regulated industries.

Life insurance is a unique and serious business with a mission to financially protect as many people as possible. We wish the consumer-based genetic testing industry well in Washington, D.C. While understanding the consumer appeal of your products, kindly inform that we are not partners if asked.

Jack Dolan

Jack Dolan is Vice President, Public Affairs at the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). A former journalist and Capitol Hill aide, he joined ACLI in 1991. He has represented ACLI in print, broadcast and online news outlets on a wide range of financial and retirement security issues facing American families.