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Insurance, family history and genetic testing

Last Reviewed 12/05/2016

What insurance companies can ask, and what you need to tell them when applying for insurance can seem like a complicated issue. Here we explain what an insurance company can and cannot ask you about your family history of genetic conditions, and what they can and cannot ask you about your genetic test results. 

Family History

Family medical history (sometimes called ‘family history’) is a record of health information about a person and his or her close relatives (blood relatives). Family medical history can identify people with a higher-than-usual chance of having some disorders.

What information do I have to disclose about my family history?

You may be asked to disclose information to the insurance company about what you know of your family’s medical history. This includes:

  • Current or previous illness amongst family members.
  • Whether a genetic condition runs in the family.
  • Whether any deaths in the family are due to a genetic or inherited condition.

Who counts as ‘family’ according to insurance companies?

Insurance companies most often ask for the family medical history of your immediate/first degree family members (parents and siblings). However, a complete record of family medical history may also include children, brothers and sisters, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and cousins.

Do I need to tell the insurance company if a genetic condition runs in the family?

Yes. If your insurance company asks you, details of any genetic conditions that run in your family must be disclosed.

Can insurance companies ask me for family members’ predictive genetic test results?

No. Under the Concordat and Moratorium insurance companies are not allowed to ask you for family members’ predictive genetic test results. You only have to answer what is asked for by the insurance company, or requested on the application form. Answering all questions truthfully will prevent any chances of your policy becoming void.

What can my insurance company ask?

  • If a genetic condition runs in your family.
  • Your family medical history.

What can’t my insurance company ask?

  • Your predictive genetic test results. However this does not apply if you are seeking to obtain life insurance cover of more than £500,000 and have taken the predictive genetic test for Huntington’s disease.
  • Family members’ predictive genetic test results.

Genetic Testing 

Insurance companies may ask you questions about genetic test results to allow them to produce an insurance policy. A genetic test looks for gene mutations (DNA changes) associated with genetic conditions. There are two types of genetic tests:

Predictive genetic test

If a particular genetic condition runs in your family, but you show no signs or symptoms of the condition, a predictive genetic test predicts your future risk of developing the condition. This may be for a gene that is suspected of causing a late onset condition or for a gene that is suspected of causing a high incidence of a common condition in your family.

A positive test result (sometimes called ‘adverse’ test result) means that the gene mutation has been found and you will either develop the condition, or are likely to develop the condition.

A negative test result (sometimes called ‘normal’ test result) means the gene mutation has not been found.

Diagnostic genetic test

If you are showing signs or symptoms of a particular genetic condition, a diagnostic genetic test confirms or rules out whether you have the condition.

A positive test result (sometimes called ‘adverse’ test result) means that the gene mutation causing the condition has been found. The result confirms your diagnosis of the condition.

A negative test result (sometimes called ‘normal’ test result) means the gene mutation associated with the condition has not been found.

When do I need to disclose a predictive genetic test result?

You only need to disclose a predictive genetic test result to an insurance company if you are obtaining life insurance cover for over £500,000 and have taken the test for Huntington’s disease.

According to the Concordat and Moratorium, insurance companies may only ask you for certain predictive genetic test results that have been approved by an independent government committee.

Can insurance companies ask me to take any genetic tests?

No. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and UK Government have a Concordat and Moratorium that states that people who are seeking insurance will not be asked or put under any pressure to take a genetic test to obtain insurance cover.

What if I take a diagnostic or predictive genetic test and the test result is negative?

You may wish to tell an insurance company about negative diagnostic or predictive genetic test results; many insurance companies will take into account the result of such a voluntarily disclosed genetic test and may remove any loadings or special terms applied to your premium based on your family medical history. If you do not want to do this, you do not need to. You only have to answer what is asked for by the insurance company, or requested on the application form.

Do I need to tell the insurance company of any genetic tests taken after the insurance policy starts?

No. You do not have to disclose any genetic test results taken after the cover has started, for as long as that cover is in force and not altered.

If you have disclosed a predictive genetic test result that does not need to be disclosed, insurance companies should ignore it.

What can my insurance company ask me about genetic testing?

  • Diagnostic genetic test results.
  • Predictive genetic test results if you have taken the test for Huntington’s disease AND applying for more than £500,000 for life insurance cover.

What can’t my insurance company ask me about genetic testing?

  • Your predictive genetic test results. Unless you are seeking to obtain life insurance cover of more than £500,000 and have taken the predictive genetic test for Huntington’s disease.
  • Predictive genetic test results for critical illness cover and income protection cover.
  • Family members’ predictive genetic test results.

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