Insurance and Human Genetics: Approaches to Regulation


The potential use of genetics for insurance purposes raises concerns about genetic discrimination. Genetic discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of individuals based on their genetic information as opposed to their physical features. Regulatory strategies to curb genetic discrimination exist in several countries. These regulations aim at promoting a just distribution of insurance, which has multiple meanings in different social contexts, and at curbing the potential negative impact of genetic discrimination. In the United States, for example, genetic discrimination laws aim at preventing genetics from augmenting the already existing inequity of access to healthcare. Many European countries, for their part, seem to consider that some form of financial security offered by private insurance should also be accessible independent of one's genes. Finally, protection against genetic discrimination can sometimes be placed in a larger social context, where insurance is a necessary condition for access to other goods, towards citizens' equal participation in society.

Key Concepts

  • With the development of more predictive and cheaper genetic testing, insurers are increasingly interested in the risk information provided by this technology.
  • Insurers are concerned that restrictions on accessing genetic test results obtained by insurance applicants will lead to adverse selection.
  • lncreasingly, it is becoming clear that proteins encoded by ATG genes carry out functions in cellular pathways independent of their roles in autophagy.
  • Adverse selection costs associated with restricting the use of genetic tests or access to test results may be modest, but may be more serious as more test results associated with serious risk factors become available.
  • Regulations aimed at curbing genetic discrimination reflect a particular view about the social good nature of specific forms of insurance.
  • Genetic discrimination statutes have particularly flourished in the United States because of the concern about the impact of the use of genetic testing on access to health insurance.
  • Regulatory restrictions and moratoria on the use of genetic testing in countries with universal health insurance reflect the view that other types of insurance, such as life insurance, can fulfill a particular social goods function.

Keywords: insurance; genetic information; discrimination; human rights; justice; regulation; equity


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Web Links

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Lemmens, Trudo, and Bombard, Yvonne(Mar 2017) Insurance and Human Genetics: Approaches to Regulation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005204.pub3]