- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

States are moving to ban or limit insurance companies from requiring potential policyholders to undergo genetic tests.

While most states have laws that discourage health insurers from using genetic tests, few have similar rules for long-term care or life-insurance companies.

“The denial of insurance on the basis of any genetic testing would be terribly inappropriate,” said New York Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, a Democrat.

Mr. Morelle in March introduced a bill, which still is pending, that for one year would ban insurance companies from denying or canceling life or disability coverage on the basis of genetic information.

“We are going to push this issue and, hopefully, be successful in preventing that from occurring,” he said.

Most life-insurance companies do not require or advise potential policyholders to undergo genetic testing. But lawmakers said they are trying to prevent situations that could involve companies’ charging customers more for policies or denying them coverage based on their genetic information.

States leading the movement to limit genetic testing during the policy-application process include New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Seven states already have laws banning life insurers from discriminating against customers based on genetic-test information unless they have actuarial justification.

Additionally, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont prohibit insurers from requiring applicants to undergo genetic testing, but insurers can use available test results.

Currently, life insurers can require female customers to be tested for genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that show if a woman is susceptible to breast and ovarian cancers.

Insurers can use the results when factoring rates during the application process, according to the American Council of Life Insurers, a Washington trade association.

“But companies look at a whole host of things, not just the results of one genetic test,” said spokeswoman Roberta Meyer.

Ms. Meyer said the tests are a relatively new phenomenon for the industry. While they can be one factor in determining insurance rates, insurers look at the woman’s entire health history, she said.

On the federal side, a bill is pending in Congress that would ban health insurers from using genetic-test information to deny coverage or raise rates, both for group and individual coverage.

Several health and life insurers said they do not use any genetic testing in the application process, adding that most genetic tests cost hundreds of dollars.

Milwaukee life insurer Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. does not require customers to take any genetic tests before gaining coverage, said spokeswoman Jean Towell. “The kind of things we are more interested in are things like family history,” Ms. Towell said.

Aflac Inc., a Columbus, Ga., insurer that sells life and long-term disability insurance, does not require any genetic testing for customers before they receive coverage.

“It’s up to [customers] if they want to disclose that information to us, but it’s not part of our underwriting process. We don’t ask them to do it,” said spokeswoman Yolonda King.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., a Columbus, Ohio, insurance conglomerate, generally requests more medical information from customers wanting life-insurance policies worth $2 million or more.

“But it’s not [a situation] where genetic tests are needed,” said Chief Medical Officer Michael Moore, adding the company does not require the testing.

While health plans vary, most U.S. health insurers provide coverage for genetic mutation testing, like those for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, said Larry Akey, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a Washington industry trade group.

“We encourage the genetic testing, especially among high-risk individuals, and we urge them to get appropriate genetic counseling,” Mr. Akey said.

So far, the health-insurance industry has steered clear of any rules requiring members to take the genetic-mutation testing prior to getting coverage.

“Insurance companies are not in the business of requiring policyholders to engage in screening tests,” Mr. Akey said, adding that health insurers, by federal law, cannot raise group rates for policyholders who are tested.

Insurers in the Mid-Atlantic region that cover the tests include Philadelphia insurer Cigna Corp.; Mid Atlantic Medical Services LLC, the Rockville insurance subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group; and Aetna Inc., the Hartford, Conn., insurer.

A representative for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, an Owings Mills, Md., insurer, said coverage for the tests varies from contract to contract.

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