Monday, February 25, 2008

Genetic discrimination: in the eye of the beholder?

Yesterday's NYT ran a front-page article by Amy Harmon about genetic discrimination. Some people who could potentially benefit from genetic testing are deciding not to be tested (or to be tested "off the books" using direct-to-consumer vendors) to avoid the possibility of discrimination in insurance or employment.

A spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, formerly the American Association of Health Plans, is quoted as saying that insurers have "no interest" in discriminating against health plan members on the basis of genetic information. Well, that's swell, then--no need to worry, right?

Wrong. Insurers absolutely are interested in individuals' genetic predisposition to disease: that's why if you try to buy individual coverage you will be asked for a very complete family history, in addition to lots of other super-specific information. The industry's position is that their actuaries need this data in order to come up with accurate risk calculations ... but certainly not to discriminate. They might raise your premiums to a point you can't afford, or refuse to cover treatment for your pre-existing condition, or deny you coverage altogether. They'd be making business decisions, and those decisions would be based on clinically relevant data, not some unethical, irrational value judgment. But they would never, ever discriminate.

If you're not already behind the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, get on board!

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