One of the biggest things on their list was finding life insurance, which they figured would be easy since they’ve long used the same insurance company for other matters. She told me they like the company because it has a good reputation and has treated them very well over the years. That is, until now.
Without going into too much detail, my friend has a genetic mutation that to doctors and insurance companies is a red flag for a future of chronic disease. However, everything else—e.g., her weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.—is “above average” in the health department. Regardless, the life insurance company doubled the very low premium she was originally quoted. The reason? Her genes.
Now, she has known about this genetic mutation for several years, which is precisely why she has tried to the best of her ability to live a healthy lifestyle, including taking supplements, exercising regularly and eating right. She never for one minute considered the possibility that this genetic information could be used against her.
In a conversation with the insurance underwriter, my friend said, “So let me get this straight—you guys are penalizing me for my genes, something that no matter how hard I try I cannot change?” The underwriter said, “Well, I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”
During the last decade there has been a lot of debate surrounding the use of genetic information in relation to insurance—health insurance companies have used it to deny coverage, while life insurance companies have used it to raise premiums. The legal and ethical issues are endless. On the flipside, the burgeoning study of nutrigenomics (i.e., personalized nutrition) is looking to use genetic information to do some good (and this is the way it should be).
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) became federal law in 2008. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information in relation to health insurance and employment, but it does not cover life insurance, disability or long-term care insurance.
Here’s the way I see it. First of all, having this genetic mutation in no way guarantees that my friend will actually develop the disease it is indicated for in the future. Even more important, because she knows she has this genetic mutation, she has tried to keep all other risk factors—e.g., weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.—in check. (But what’s the point now, especially if she is going to be treated as if she lives her life recklessly? Forget the exercise, omega 3s, folic acid and baby aspirin; bring on the cigarettes, booze and Big Macs!)
I have always advocated for prevention and believe wholeheartedly—irrespective of the industry I write about—it is one of few things that can change the fate of the greatest number of people on this planet, as far as health is concerned. Clearly, insurance companies feel differently and it is this industry’s job to change that, seeing how prevention forms the very foundation for a majority of the products it produces. Besides, what’s the point of perfect genes when we live in such an imperfect world?