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Guy Thomas

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Genetic discrimination and insurance (old page)

This is an old page (hence the different colour), maintained mainly for historical interest. For my new genetics page, please go here.

I have a relatively normal view of this subject. I think that insurance companies should not be allowed to ask questions about genetic test results. This view appears to be shared by most normal people.

In contrast, many actuaries seem to have an abnormal view. They are in favour of genetic discrimination, and they believe that insurance companies should have unrestricted access to genetic test results.

There is potentially a justification for such discrimination in insurance, even if most people find it abhorrent. The potential justification is that such discrimination is essential to the financial stability of private insurance - that is, insurance would not be viable without it. However there is currently no evidence, for any class of private insurance, that this is the case.

Many actuaries seem curiously uninterested in the technical question of whether discrimination is essential. They are more interested in lobbying on behalf of insurance companies for the widest possible freedom to discriminate where discrimination is optional. The foreseeable effect of this lobbying is to make the lives of many unfortunate people more miserable than they otherwise would be.

Many actuaries point out that if insurance discrimination were to be in any way restricted, more self-selection might occur. This is a phenomenon whereby some unfortunate people might lead less miserable lives than they would lead were discrimination not restricted, and other more fortunate people might pay very slightly higher insurance premiums. This possibility seems to cause great offence to many actuaries.

It seems to me that the lobbying of many actuaries on this subject is probably motivated by selfish considerations, viz (a) a concern for the commercial interests of insurance companies (the principal employers of actuaries); and (b) the fact that actuaries will not, in general, themselves be disadvantaged by genetic discrimination; and (c) a cynical disregard for the wider social consequences of insurance discrimination.

You can read more about this in some of my papers and correspondence below.

Papers on genetics and insurance:

Genetics and Insurance Committee:

The Genetics and Insurance Committee is a non-statutory body established by the UK government to legitimise discrimination against people affected by genetic misfortune.

Some of my correspondence with and presentations to GAIC:

GAIC occasionally seeks actuarial advice on applications for approval of specific genetic tests submitted by the insurance industry. The actuarial review of the first such application was remarkably critical, a fact which was suppressed by the Committee. A copy of this actuarial review is available here (pdf, 424kB)

Correspondence with the Government Actuary:

Press comment by me:

Parliamentary comment on insurance (genetics & other topics):

More about genetics:


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