Genetics - The Dialogue Podcast

Reading time: 3 mins

The next instalment of the Dialogue Podcast series explores the broader future implications of genetic testing for society, medical professionals and the insurance industry.

In the podcast, Stephen Dixon (Deputy Actuary at Munich Reinsurance Australia) questions Jessica Chen (Director of Insurance, Finance at BT Financial Group) on the research, potential impacts and considerations of modern genetic testing in the Dialogue thought leadership paper 'Genetics - a testing time for insurers?' - authored by Jessica and Alan Doble.

In the paper, Jessica looks at the far reaching implications for society and individuals of genetic testing. Factors such as rapidly decreasing test costs and greater understanding of genetic research results have increased the use of genetic testing:

“...the field of genetics has developed quite rapidly over the last couple of decades, so in the early 2000's it was the first time that the human genome was completely mapped." - Jessica Chen

Jessica notes that the genetics community in Australia sees a need to reduce barriers for people who want to understand their genetic make-up for health and/or family reasons. Increased genetic testing creates the potential for affected individuals to mitigate the risk of inherited disease that previously could not be identified through traditional blood and urine tests.

“...the genetic test used to focus on what we call monogenetic diseases so these are typically single gene mutations that 100% predict the onset of certain diseases. But since then the technology's moved and now we have what we call predictive genetic testing."

Currently predictive genetic testing uses technology called genome-wide Association studies whereby diseases that are caused by a number of gene mutations are researched and identified as polygenetic diseases. This technology is utilised to predict more common diseases such as cancer and heart disease and yet despite the advances, there are barriers that still present themselves to individuals including:

  • Ethical considerations regarding pre-emptive consent for future interpretations from older genetic tests.
  • Discovery of becoming high risk of a genetic disease
  • Disclosure of genetic test results form an individual to medical and insurance professionnel

Jessica argues that while genetic testing is not regarded as a current threat to the insurance industry, should larger volumes of genetic tests be undertaken then individuals will start changing insurers based on the results. Insurers will need to redesign their policies, premiums and coverage to ensure the quality of life for their insureds remains high and their customer base continues to be loyal. Jessica notes however that it is up to the individual to make better informed decisions around their life and health insurance.

"...ultimately the aim of genetic tests is to improve people's lives so we do hope that people will use this information to better manage their health and improve the quality of their life."

Jessica recommends building a database where claim outcomes relate to high genetic information to track any new findings and similar patterns in a cluster of individuals. Jessica and Alan also encourage the FSC to publish information on how insurers make decisions on information provided to them through genetic tests to help individuals and the wider industries understand how they're tracking.

Overall Jessica makes a call to action for the medical profession, genetic research and insurance industry to come together and create a transparent solution that takes into account everybody's views.

Listen in to find out more on Jessicas' research and further recommendations.

Listen to "The Dialogue - Genetics - a testing time for insurers" on Spreaker.

Download Transcript here.

Access the Paper and Media Release here.

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About the authors

Jessica Chen

Jessica Chen is an experienced actuary working in the life insurance industry. She is passionate about social issues and exploring their potential consequences to businesses and the actuarial profession.

Stephen Dixon

Stephen has over 25 years experience as an Actuary in the financial sector including roles with Swiss Re, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and is currently an Actuary at Munich Re.

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