An at-home DNA test helped me track my family tree back six generations, even though my mother was adopted. Seeing the map of my ancestry was exciting and illuminating. We even attended a family reunion with a branch of our family we never would have discovered. It was an incredible thing. And now, at home DNA tests can do more than ever, helping you understand your full health picture or informing your lifestyle choices.
But with the proliferation of detailed DNA data that can potentially reveal future health risks, people are understandably starting to ask important questions about how their private information can be used. And, specifically, how could these data points impact them in the future.
The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health insurance companies from determining your premium pricing based on your genetic data. However, other forms of insurance – like life insurance – are not required to disregard that data if it comes across their desk.
It’s important to understand how insights from genetic or DNA tests could be used in the life insurance application process now or in years to come.
How do life insurance companies use genetic data?
Currently, life insurance companies rarely ask for DNA tests in the application process. State regulators have strict rules in place to help prevent life insurance buyers from being prematurely punished for health conditions that may exist at some point in their lives.
At Haven Life, for example, we do not ask about or proactively seek out DNA or genetic testing in the application process for the Haven Term policy, which is underwritten and issued by our parent company MassMutual.
Where the results of DNA tests can be revealed, though, is during the medical underwriting process. When you’re purchasing a medically underwritten life insurance policy (often one of the most affordable types of coverage), a life insurance company is analyzing lifestyle and health information to determine a rate for your coverage. Depending on what is found in the application and underwriting process, the insurer may need to request medical records from your doctor to understand a bit more about your health. If DNA or genetic tests are included in your medical records, an underwriter may include that information as part of his or her evaluation.
For example, tests like BRCA, which looks for mutations in breast cancer susceptibility genes, are often present in medical records. Or, if you took medical action on results from a DNA test to prevent, treat or test for a health concern, that could also be uncovered.
While it’s possible a life insurance company could come across these test results in your medical records, it does not necessarily mean it will have a negative impact on premium pricing. In fact, a family history of breast cancer could weigh less heavily if you tested negative for the BRCA gene.
How can you protect your DNA data?
As with all sensitive personal information, taking time to understand how your data could be used and to protect it is always a pragmatic move.
Before taking any genetic tests, read privacy policies carefully. Some at-home tests allow the providers to sell your genetic data, which can put your most personal information in the hands of entities you don’t know or didn’t directly approve of.
When it comes to genetic tests by your medical provider, doctors have been at the forefront of patient education when it comes to the potential ramifications of test results. While it is highly unlikely your doctors would recommend avoiding an important test because of privacy concerns, they can help you understand the impact it could have later on.
The world of easily accessible genetic testing is still very new. While your DNA doesn’t change, the science behind it is evolving at a rapid pace. Today, using genetic testing in the life insurance application process isn’t the norm, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be used 5, 10, 15 or 20 years from now.
Your DNA data
Taking a DNA test can provide you with so many positive insights into your life. You can track your unknown heritage and visit the town where your great-grandparents were married. Or identify potential health risks before they happen and get the information you need to live a healthier life. These are fascinating reasons to take a DNA test.
Concerns about data privacy shouldn’t prevent you from learning more about yourself. But it is always wise to be aware of how your data may be used today or in the future to prevent any unwanted surprises.
Chelsea Brennan is the founder of Smart Money Mamas, a personal finance blog that focuses on family finance, investing, and reducing money stress. Chelsea is an ex-hedge fund investor whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and more.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not provide legal or medical advice, and this information should not be relied upon as such. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own legal advisors and medical professionals.