Day 6

Could your genetic makeup be jacking up your insurance premiums?

Senator James Cowan says Canada needs a law to ban genetic discrimination. Frank Zinatelli, vice president and general counsel of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, says it would handcuff insurance companies and increase premiums for everyone.
Senator James Cowan first introduced Bill S-201in early 2013.

Brynne Stainsby says insurance companies discriminated against her because of something that might have been in her genes.

Stainsby, a 33-year-old chiropractor in Toronto, tells Day 6 she started shopping around for life and disability insurance when she decided to set up her own practice, and that three insurance companies told her she'd be denied coverage unless she could prove she didn't have the genetic mutation responsible for Huntington's disease. Her grandfather had Huntington's disease and her father has the genetic mutation which causes it.

"I was going to be denied simply on the basis of, I would argue, an incomplete picture of my potential genetic makeup," she tells Day 6. 

"I felt devastated and terrified. And then I was really, really angry." 

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says Canadian insurance companies do not ask anyone to take a genetic test. 

But Stainsby says she didn't really have a choice. 

"It's a little bit of a Catch 22. They don't ask you, but if can't provide proof that you have a negative test result, you won't be insured." 

Senator James Cowan says this is why Canada needs a law to ban what he calls genetic discrimination.

There is nothing more private than your genetic makeup.- Senator James Cowan

Cowan's proposed law — Bill S-201, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act — would make it illegal for insurance companies or anyone else to ask someone to undergo a genetic test. It would also make it illegal to ask someone for the results of a genetic test or to disclose the results of a test without that person's permission. The bill is now before the House of Commons. 

Frank Zinatelli, vice president and general counsel of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, tells Bambury he doesn't think the bill is necessary and that it could end up driving up costs for everyone.

"We're not asking for the person to take the test, it's the person's choice to do so,"  he tells Bambury.

Zinatelli opposes Cowan's bill because he says it could create situations in which people applying for insurance would know more than the companies insuring them.

"They go and they take a genetic test and they find that they might have a future risk that is pretty serious and the next day, they say I'm going to go get that insurance now and load up. And then we would not be able to make a proper assessment."

But Cowan argues that genetic tests deserve to be treated differently. 

"If you've got to take a blood test or a urine test that would disclose an existing condition then that's perfectly fine," he tells Bambury. "That's an assessment of your current medical situation. But what a genetic test will do is give you an indication of what might happen in the future."