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:
- See the papers section of this site
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:
- Insurance markets & genetics - a former actuary's view presentation given by Guy Thomas to GAIC on 5 October 2004
- Genetics and insurance moratorium after 2006 my paper giving reasons and recommendations for extending the moratorium (December 2003)
- What's wrong with GAIC 28 September 2003
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:
- Spin-doctoring by the UK Forum for Genetics and Insurance 9 Dec 2000
- New figures confirm negligible public support for the Institute of Actuaries' position 7 Dec 2000
- Critique of the position statement issued by the Faculty & Institute of Actuaries 6 June 2000
- General public overwhelmingly opposed to genetic discrimination in insurance 6 February 2000
- Science is positive, not normative 18 October 1999
- Political activities of the Institute of Actuaries 21 September 1999
- Why I disagree with efforts to promote acceptance of genetic discrimination 5 September 1999
Press comment by me:
- Profession should have nothing to do with attacking the interests of genetically disadvantaged individuals (letter to The Actuary, 10 September 2000
- Actuary condemns government's lenient approach on insurers and genetic testing (press release, 23 March 2000)
Parliamentary comment on insurance (genetics & other topics):
- Genetics, insurance and
A transcript of a House of Commons debate on 24 June 2003. Insurance industry hoist by its own petard?
- Orphan estates of UK insurance
A transcript of a House of Commons debate on 14 January 2002.
- Genetics and insurance
A transcript of a House of Commons debate on 25 October 2001.
- Select Committee Report
A report of the Science & Technology Select Committee on genetics & insurance, March 2001.
- Claims evasion by UK insurance
A transcript of a House of Commons debate on 21 December 1999.
More about genetics: