The secrets were once buried deep, hidden inside the paired strands of DNA inside every person. The mysteries of the genome—an individual’s complete set of DNA—remained shrouded in 1990, when the Human Genome Project began.
A watershed moment came in 2003 when the international research project completed its mission, sequencing the genome. Decoding the blueprint for every human being—what directs their development and influences their health—has provided revolutionary insights ever since.
That is why we have seen a significant spike in genetic direct-to-consumer tests from companies like 23andMe. People across the planet are consumed with learning about their genetic family histories. This is a compelling story, now prevalent in movies, books, and television. The story will only get more intriguing.
23andMe.com offers risk reports for at least 11 diseases, providing the public with revealing genetic information. Those who learn about genetic predispositions to disease may be disappointed to find that medicine is lagging behind, but those gaining confidence from learning about the absence of predispositions may find improved confidence about their future.
More than 12 million people have taken direct-to-consumer DNA tests, with almost 8 million of those tests occurring since 2016. Recent studies indicate that as much as 15 percent of the U.S. population has taken a genetic test.
While advances in medicine, pharmaceuticals, DNA testing, and improved longevity can positively influence our lives, they also pose a significant risk.
What if you could go back in time and buy Apple or Microsoft stock at issue? What if you could acquire an appreciating asset that you know will not be available in the future, and it could be a game-changer for your family?
Genomics is transforming medicine, and slowly but inevitably reshaping insurance too. The rapidly advancing science is forcing the industry to navigate a multitude of actuarial, ethical, privacy, and even reputational concerns.
People who get a genetic test back are going to want to take action—those who get unfavorable information may choose to travel more, work less, or seek out medical treatments intended to guard against or slow the advancement of certain conditions indicated by the testing. People who gain confidence about their favorable futures may seek to shift careers, invest differently, commence savings, or make other plans intended to preserve their longevity. Either way, armed with this new information, they are going to seek to protect themselves and their families.
• Imagine a test result shows a predisposition toward Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Multiple Sclerosis. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they owned proper insurance like long-term care to ensure they have adequate cover for care later in life?
• Imagine that a test affirms longevity. Wouldn’t those likely to live longer seek out annuities as a tool to assure they never run out of money?
• Imagine that a test indicates a shorter lifespan due to likely cancer, heart issues, or diabetes. Wouldn’t those predisposed to these conditions purchase life insurance products that preserve their insurability and assure legacies for their families?
Humans have never been as privy to their future, and with this new landscape comes even more unique opportunities for planning.
THE FUTURE OF INSURANCE
To date, insurers have not been overly concerned with consumer DNA technology, given the relatively small segment of the population that has been tested. However, that seems to be rapidly changing as testing becomes more accessible, affordable (now priced from $200 to $1,500), and quick.
The fundamental business models for life, disability, critical illness, and long-term care insurers could be at stake, given the growing information, as more people who buy insurance products will seek out insurance without disclosing their predispositions to certain diseases.
Genomics may just become the greatest disruptor to the life, disability, critical illness, and long-term care industries—the equivalent of global warming or cybersecurity risks in the property/casualty space.
Genomics just may become the greatest disruptor to the life, disability, critical illness, and long-term care industries—the equivalent of global warming or cybersecurity risks in the property/casualty space.
A 2008 federal law prevents health insurers from seeking the results of genetic testing. However, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act does not bind life, disability, critical illness, and long-term-care insurers. Innovative insurance companies might not only request genetic testing, but also proactively offer it. They might say, “We’re going to give you insights into your health and let you act on them, but we’re not going to let it influence the underwriting process or cancel your policy if anything shows up.”
As all of this plays out, the opportunities for planning, with the products available to today’s professional, will assure that families are taken care of and assets are preserved, and those who obtain contracts that are non-cancellable and contain premium guarantees will look back at these products like they thought of buying Google or Apple stocks at IPO prices.
Like the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” Do the planning today for the people and things you care most about, have “the conversation,” and perhaps you won’t have to worry about the future after all.