March 18, 2017

Current “pre-existing conditions” would mean nothing when complete genomic sequences enter the health insurance world

Sir, Gillian Tett writes “most consumers have not fully considered the consequences of genetic profiling: is it a good idea, say, to discover through a genetic profile a vulnerability to Alzheimer’s? What will that mean for life insurance policies and data privacy?”, “The importance of socks in the genomic revolution” March 17.

Indeed, imagine if a full genomic sequence is obtainable at a really low price, what stops then insurance companies from offering two plans, one for those who want to present their full DNA result, and one for those who prefer to keep these confidential? What would the differences in premiums be?

In 2000, in the now extinct Daily Journal of Caracas, I wrote an Op-Ed titled “Human genetics made inhuman”. In it I tackled some of the problems to which Ms. Tett refers.

I ended that article with: “suggesting that all insurance companies design a plan which obligates them to issue policies for all of those who undertake a genetic examination. This policy should cover the negative impact and consequence that could arise from anyone getting access to such information.”

Would that suffice? Clearly not, but just the existence of such an insurance, and seeing the premiums charged, could be a smart way for us to allow the market indicate us what kind of social troubles we are getting into. This because clearly what we currently refer to the problems in health insurance with “pre-existing conditions”, would all be baby talk when compared to the societal impacts of genomic sequencing.

I worried about this in 2000, as others must have been worrying earlier, and here Gillian Tett brings it up in 2017. What has happened in this respect during that interval? Has someone somewhere been thinking on how to tackle this formidable societal challenge? Probably not! If so, why? Or is this just another question of those that should not be asked?

PS. In 2015, in a letter to FT, I asked: “What would Gillian Tett say if one of her health record entrepreneurs, by means of an innocent mistake, entered a data that for instance hindered one of her children to enter a university that had decided that the expected longevity of students was good for its funding drives?