If You Want Life Insurance, Think Twice Before Getting A Genetic Test

As genetic testing explodes, health insurers are banned from denying coverage based on results. The same doesn’t apply for life insurance.


Jennifer Marie* should be an ideal candidate for life insurance: She’s 36, gainfully employed, and has no current medical issues.

But on September 15 last year, Jennifer Marie’s application for life insurance was denied.

“Unfortunately after carefully reviewing your application, we regret that we are unable to provide you with coverage because of your positive BRCA 1 gene,” the letter reads. In the U.S., about one in 400 women have a BRCA 1 or 2 gene, which is associated with increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Jennifer Marie provided a copy of the document to Fast Company on the condition that she and her insurance company remain anonymous, as she is still hoping to appeal the rejection.

According to recent estimates, 55% to 65% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA 1 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 70. By contrast, 12% of the general population will be diagnosed with breast cancer. But the presence of the gene mutation is by no means a death sentence. Not everyone with the BRCA mutation develops cancer, and some informed patients seek highly effective preventative treatments to reduce the likelihood that they’ll ever get sick.

“Those who find out they have the mutation can drastically reduce their risk,” says Laura Esserman, a surgeon and breast cancer oncology specialist at UC San Francisco. “Knowledge is power.”

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