Canada Privacy Guardian Clashes With Insurers on Genetic Testing

Jul 10, 2014 1:05 pm ET

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- A Canadian agency is pushing life and health insurers to stop asking applicants for access to genetic test results, drawing resistance from an industry that says the data help companies properly price policies.

The request today from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada asks insurers to go beyond their voluntary moratorium on asking clients to undergo tests. Without the assurance of permanent privacy, some people would be discouraged from undergoing exams because the results could eventually be used against them, the office said.

“It is not clear that the collection and use of genetic test results by insurance companies is demonstrably necessary, effective, proportionate or the least intrusive means of achieving the industry’s objectives,” according to the statement.

The tests may show a vulnerability to cancer or other disease. In the U.S., a law prohibits genetic discrimination by employers and health insurers. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Some states have additional laws.

“They say these tests aren’t necessary, we think they are,” said Frank Zinatelli, vice president and general counsel for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, the industry group representing 99 percent of the industry in the country. “This would be significant if we were not permitted to collect information that’s relevant to assess risk properly.”

Manulife Financial Corp., Great-West Lifeco Inc. and Sun Life Financial Inc. are Canada’s largest life insurers.

--With assistance from Zachary Tracer in New York.