Genetics and life insurance

Genetics and life insurance

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Speakers: Jessica Chen, Damjan Vukcevic

Modern-day genetic research has uncovered thousands of genetic variants that are associated with greater risk of common human diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. These variants are generally common throughout the population, with all individuals carrying at least some of the 'high risk' genetic variants. This is distinctly different from the previous generation of genetic discoveries, which focused on rare variants and rare diseases, and are predominately the genetic tests that are currently used in clinical practices. In contrast, genetics researchers have now developed 'polygenic risk scores' which combine all of the known common variants together into a single predictor of risk. For many important diseases, the predictive power of such scores has approached that of known lifestyle risk factors.

These advances in genetic knowledge, together with a reduction in the cost of genetic testing, raise the potential for individuals to gain better insights into their current and future health. For life insurance companies, such advances might be expected to increase anti-selection risks and may even challenge the way in which insurance risk is considered and managed.

Our aim is to provide:

  • A summary of the latest in genetics research, focusing on how it can be used to predict disease risk for individuals. We shine a spotlight in particular on the key diseases that lead to the majority of life insurance claims.
  • An overview of the current state of the life insurance industry, with particular regard to disclosure requirements on genetic information when applying for insurance.
  • An analysis of the 'threat' of genetic testing to the life insurance industry, based on the latest genetic knowledge.
  • Some ideas on how insurers can think differently to respond to the challenge of customers with greater knowledge of their personal health risks.

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