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‘Critical juncture’ as Treasury reviews genetic test laws  

Laws around the use of genetic test results should be tightened so that life insurers will not be able to discriminate against Australians, medical researchers say, as Treasury consults on proposed regulatory intervention measures. 

“This is a critical juncture for the Australian public,” said Jane Tiller, who is Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine Public Health Genomics Ethical Legal & Social Adviser. 

“At some point in the coming years, all Australians will be offered genetic testing in some form or another. How well protected they are against discrimination on the basis of their DNA might depend on whether they take action now to ask the government for a total ban.” 

Treasury launched the consultation last month, and in its paper cited findings from a federally funded report led by Monash University. 

The A-Glimmer Final Stakeholder Report on genetic discrimination in life insurance was led by Dr Tiller, in collaboration with the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, Tasmania, Deakin University and other clinical and consumer partners. 

The report to the Government proposed changes to the Disability Discrimination Act to prohibit insurers from using genetic or genomic test results to “discriminate” between applicants for risk-rated insurance, and consider amendments to the regulation of financial services to ensure insurers are subject to a positive duty to not discriminate. 

Many countries, such as the UK, the US and Canada have already banned or restricted life insurers’ access to genetic test results for underwriting purposes. 

In Australia the Disability Discrimination Act provides an exemption for life insurers to use genomic or genetic test results when underwriting life insurance contracts. 

The life industry has a self-regulated moratorium that prohibits the use of genetic tests below certain financial limits but the A-Glimmer report says the mechanism is not fully effective. One, not all insurers are complying with the moratorium, and second, the financial limits were set too low. 

“The Albanese government recognises the importance of genetic and genomic health technologies,” Financial Services Minister Stephen Jones said last month in a joint statement with Federal MP Josh Burns.

“They are reshaping clinical practice and changing the way medical practitioners prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor a range of heritable conditions, cancer predisposition syndromes and cancers.   

“That is why the Albanese Government is releasing a consultation paper considering options to regulate the use of genetic testing results in life insurance underwriting.” 

He says the options outlined in the Treasury consultation paper aims to ensure consumers can continue to access affordable life insurance, while maximising the significant health benefits provided by genetic testing. 

Treasury proposed three regulatory intervention options including legislating a ban on use of adverse genetic testing results and legislating a financial limit that will define the thresholds at which insurers cannot request or utilise adverse genetic testing results in their underwriting. 

Consultation closes on January 31. 

Click here for the Treasury consultation paper.