Can Genetic Testing Save Lives?

Can Genetic Testing Save Lives?
A new wave of breakthrough medicine is improving health outcomes in patients around the world.

Genetic testing can help people take a more proactive role in their health, as shown by actor, Angelina Jolie, who underwent a preventive double mastectomy and hysterectomy after learning about her cancer risk.

Low-cost diagnostic testing is becoming available for a growing range of conditions including obesity-related illnesses, heart problems, Parkinson’s and more. As well as improved health outcomes, these advancements could lead to a different approach to people’s relationship with insurance companies.

Sovereign chief officer, Len Elikhis, says a person’s genetic make-up can be seen and analysed in a cost-effective way. “The challenge for insurers and their customers is: what do we do with this new technology?” He says one way would be for people applying for cover to undergo a genetic test. “But I don’t see that flying for a number of reasons – it will dissuade a lot of people from choosing to purchase insurance; there are huge concerns around privacy and ethical matters; and there’s a concern about privacy.”

Instead, Elikhis says, his company wants to work with people in a proactive way to plan and manage the best possible outcomes. “The impact of this technology for our customers is profound. Knowing that health problems may lie ahead based on genetic predisposition is a daunting realisation for a customer.”

Sovereign believes the tests may help their customers manage risk factors when they have health or trauma insurance. “Let’s say someone purchases trauma cover, which pays a claim if they are diagnosed with cancer,” Elikhis theorises. “They disclose all the information and are offered the insurance package. Then we send them a genetic test, they choose to participate and we discover they have a defective BRCA gene, which means they are at a significantly elevated risk of breast cancer.”

What next? “We might be able to say, ‘Rather than wait for the cancer to develop and then pay your claim to the value of your cover, we might pay for some or all of your medical treatment to proceed with a prophylactic mastectomy and have the breast tissue removed’.”

In this scenario, Elikhis says, genetic testing can complement a healthy lifestyle and regular medical care. “You know where the risk factors are, and all of a sudden you can be much more targeted for conditions you are at a high risk of developing. There is no pressure for the customer. If they choose not to have the test, that’s entirely up to them. If they choose not to share that information with the insurer, that’s entirely up to them.”

Elikhis believes it’s time to begin a broad national conversation about the benefits, uses and boundaries of genetic testing. That will involve the public, health professionals, government and its regulators, as well as his industry – and Sovereign is keen to open that discussion. “We’d like to lead, however, first a conversationsneed to take place so people recognise this is something that is entirely voluntary.”

In the future, Elikhis says, “I think insurance companies will move away from, ‘They pay a premium and we will pay them a claim if something happens’, to something that is a much more proactive approach in helping customers manage their risk factors.”


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