Life insurers’ concession on genetic testing slammed

by Leo Almazora25 Nov 2016
A sudden compromise by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association on the issue of genetic testing was met with harsh criticism by Liberal MP Chris Bittle, according to a National Post report.

Shortly before the review of Bill S-201, which would outlaw genetic discrimination by forbidding insurers from requiring genetic tests or disclosure of past test results, the CLHIA said that it will ignore genetic test results for individuals applying for policies worth $250,000 or less.

The declaration was made in an effort to soften the anticipated financial impact on the industry. Insurers opposed the bill because they felt entitled to any material information as protection against “anti-selection,” which occurs when a high-risk group, such as smokers, buy insurance at the same price as a low-risk group.

Industry representatives argue that the imbalance results in higher payouts and higher premiums. Experts from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries supported the argument, telling the Commons committee reviewing the bill that life insurance premiums are expected to surge by 30% for men and 50% for women if the bill is passed.

“Everybody wants appropriate use of genetic information,” said CLHIA senior vice president Stephen Frank. “We understand very clearly as an industry that understanding genetic information allows … better treatments, better outcomes for people. There’s advantages for everyone being able to access that information.”

Frank said the industry’s concession would cover more than 85% of life insurance applications, adding that the association hopes to have the plan implemented within a few weeks.

However, Liberal MP Chris Bittle from St. Catharines, Ontario blasted the statement from the industry, particularly due to its timing. “You’ve known of this for years, you’ve know about the consequences that it’s having on people’s health in Canada and yet you wait until we’re on the verge of passing a bill? That’s inexcusable, sir,” he said to Frank.

“This reminds me of individuals coming before (the US) Congress years ago from the tobacco industry,” he went on to say. “Why should we believe you now, on the verge of passing this legislation to protect Canadians, that you are going to do right by Canadians and work for their health and best interest?”

The Liberal government fears that the bill, if signed into law, would impinge on provincial oversight of the insurance industry; constitutional experts are divided on that issue.

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Genetic test results to be kept private in Canada
Group pushes for law against genetic discrimination