Life insurance is arguably the Cinderella of the UK insurance market. It isn’t a legal necessity for many people, most of us don’t want to think aboyt it and when you do get around to organising cover, there’s usually a long-winded phone call, which involves detailed questions concerning our medical history.
The problem is, that many of us do not know our medical history – or at least a good part of it – as it is inherited from our ancestors. New research published last week by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) highlights how outdated this 1990s style telephone Q&A system is, in age of sophisticated DNA testing and other medical `MoT’ style assessments.
The BHF released figures as part of the In Your Genes campaign which is taking place throughout March. The campaign aims to raise awareness of inherited heart conditions and highlight the urgent need for better diagnosis of these conditions, so people can be identified before a tragedy or life-threatening cardiac arrest. Find out more about the In Your Genes campaign here.
The charity surveyed almost 200 people with inherited heart conditions from across the UK, and found that one in six (16%) people with a deadly inherited heart condition are only diagnosed after having a cardiac arrest, whilst a fifth (18%) of people are diagnosed after a sudden death in the family.
The BHF estimate that around 620,000 people in the UK have a faulty gene which puts them at an unusually high risk of developing heart disease or dying suddenly at a young age. Each child of someone with an inherited heart condition has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the same faulty gene. But the majority of people remain undiagnosed. In the UK it is estimated that at least 12 young people (aged under 35) die every week from an undiagnosed heart condition.
Once someone has been diagnosed with an inherited heart condition, genetic testing should be carried out on first-degree relatives – a process called cascade testing, notes the BHF. Genetic testing on family members can identify individuals who carry the faulty gene and steps can be taken to monitor individuals and reduce the risk of sudden death, such as surgery, medication or lifestyle changes.
UK Insurance Industry Needs a New Approach to Life Cover
Inherited health problems are just a part of the overall risk involved of course. This is why lifestyle questions, plus access to GP medical records, has to be another big part of underwriting life insurance policies. But asking questions such as `is there a history of heart disease in your family?’ when some customers actually have no idea what the right answer could be, is surely an old fashioned way of asessing risk.
There is also a kind of `jam today’ marketing approach when it comes to life cover. If you look at many insurer websites you will see all manner of freebies being offered, from Amazon Echo and Smartwatch gadgets, to discounts on holidays, theme parks and visiting the movies.
What you won’t see on the home page is a promise of reduced premiums, for you and your family, if you have yourselves DNA checked for various medical conditions. That might seem a bit intrusive to many companies in the market, but in the over-sharing social media world we now live in, it could well be the opportunity for a disruptive player. Many younger people will have no problem bolting a DNA saliva test onto an STI test, especially if it meant life & illness cover at a reasonable rate.
Private DNA tests can be expensive in the UK, but things are changing; The government is funding a pilot testing scheme via the NHS in East Anglia. The aim is to tailor treatments to individuals, in a more more precise, targeted way and minimise side-effects. But if the scheme is rolled out then free DNA testing could well change the life cover market profoundly.
Much will depend on legislation to protect those with higher risks of serious illnesses from being completely excluded from the life market, but more detailed DNA testing is definitely coming as the results become more accurate, and cheaper to deliver, via automation and AI.