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Health Insight May 2001:
Avoiding a genetic underclass

  Mr Milburn’s comments on genetic testing by insurance companies came a few days after a call from the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee for a ban on such testing to last at least for the next two years. The committee says more research is needed to establish the likely impact. It fears the creation of a ‘genetic underclass’ of people unable to obtain insurance.

The Association of British Insurers believes (ABI), however, that not including test results in their calculations would be costly. The only test that has been approved for use by insurers is that for Huntington’s disease but the ABI has listed tests for six other conditions it would like to see taken into consideration when settling premiums, including early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The committee has accused the industry of giving genetic tests a predictive significance that cannot at present be justified, and of being more concerned to establish its rights to use tests than about their relevance or reliability.

The government has said it welcomes the committee’s report.

Sources: BMJ 14th April, Press release (DoH), Guardian 7th April

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