Canadians buying new life and health insurance policies will be required to disclose the results of previous genetic testing, according to a new industry code.
But insurance companies will not be able to order applicants to obtain genetic tests, if they’ve not previously been tested.
The code was developed because genetic testing is becoming cheaper and more
prevalent, said Frank Zinatelli of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.
If insurance applicants know something about their health, then they should disclose it, he said.
“There’s this principle of equal information that’s the basis of insurance. The applicant discloses what is material to the risk so the insurer can charge the right price.”
The industry will not coerce applicants to get tested under the new code, he said.
In the words of the code: “Insurers will not, under any circumstances, encourage an applicant to undergo a genetic test.”
And: “Insurers will not initiate or require any applicant to undergo a genetic test as part of the process of applying for insurance.”
It’s different for applicants who have had testing before they applied for insurance, Zinatelli said.
“If you decide to take the test and then you apply for insurance — then we would like to know; because that information could be material and relevant to the risk.”
In the words of the code: “The insurer needs to be made aware of relevant and material information derived from the test in order to properly assess the risk.”
The penalty for not disclosing the results of previous genetic testing can be stiff.
“If a person doesn’t disclose relevant and material information, the insurer could void the contract,” said Zinatelli.
If you already have life or health insurance, and then take a genetic test, there’s no obligation to tell the insurer about the results, Zinatelli said.
He said the disclosure obligation doesn’t apply to group insurance policies, such as those that a company may take out to cover all its employees.
The question has arisen before, most publicly with the case of Katie Lingard, who ran into the issue when she set up practice as a chiropractor and applied for insurance.
Her father had Huntington’s disease. One insurer told her she had to get tested for the disease. Lingard did — but then decided she didn’t want to know the result.
Liberal MPP Mike Colle introduced a private member’s bill — which has since died — in the wake of her case. In an interview Thursday, Colle said the new code does address the issue of forced testing.
But he said the details of genetic testing policy should not be left solely in the hands of insurance companies.
“Given the frequency of testing and the availability that’s coming, what’s the process? How are the insurers determining the jeopardy here? That’s where there has to be some clarity,” he said. “It’s a very grey area.”
“The industry providers should sit down with government officials to work out some rules that are fair and reasonable. Because it’s an area we’ve never gone into.”
The Huntington Society of Canada said in a statement it is “concerned that this is a barrier to Canadians and might prevent them from getting genetically tested which is an important diagnostic tool.
“This could make Canadians think twice about getting tested which is unfortunate as it may put their health at risk.”