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Life insurers will only request genetic testing information from applicants seeking life insurance coverage of more than $250,000 starting early next year

By Megan Harman |

Life insurance companies in Canada will no longer request or use genetic testing information for new life insurance applications up to $250,000 beginning next January, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc. (CLHIA) announced on Wednesday.

The industry association, whose member companies account for 99% of Canada's life and health insurance business, said all of its members would implement the changes to the industry code on genetic testing, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The changes come as Canada's federal government considers legislation that would prohibit the collection of genetic test results as a requirement for providing goods or services, such as an insurance policy, and would create a requirement for written consent from individuals who choose to provide such information.

The life insurance industry has vocally contested Bill S-201: An Act to Prohibit and Prevent Genetic Discrimination, which was passed in the Senate in April 2016 and now is being considered by the House of Commons.

Specifically, CLHIA has argued that in cases in which insurance applicants have had a genetic test that reveals a predisposition to various diseases, insurers need access to those data in order to assess the risks properly. If the bill is passed, the result would be less predictable claims experiences and higher prices for all consumers, CHLIA says.

Under the changes announced on Wednesday, insurers would only request genetic testing information from applicants seeking life insurance coverage of more than $250,000. Approximately 85% of life insurance policies have coverage of $250,000 or less, according to Frank Swedlove, CLHIA's president and CEO.

"This commitment responds to concerns that Canadians may have about the impact of genetic testing results when buying insurance," says Swedlove in a statement. "Our goal is to continue to ensure that all Canadians can access insurance at fair and reasonable prices."

Under the insurance industry's code on genetic testing, insurers have the ability to ask applicants for the genetic testing results during underwriting only in cases in which insurance applicants have already completed the testing. Insurers do not require genetic testing to be done to apply for life or health insurance — nor do they request that policyholders share the results of a genetic test that they might take after they have already purchased an insurance policy.

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