BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - UK members of Parliament criticized the way insurance companies are using genetic tests and asked the government to impose a two-year moratorium on their use.

They also called for reform of the membership and procedures of the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GIAC), the government body that tells insurers which tests they can use.

In a report called Genetics and Insurance, members of the Science and Technology Committee say that insurers have acted "in too precipitate a manner and have been too eager to establish their right to use the results of genetics tests, regardless of their relevance or reliability."

The members of Parliament questioned the predictive significance of positive genetic results and their actuarial relevance, saying, "We call on each insurance company to make a clear statement of their policy and to publish more actuarial data supporting changes insurers make to premiums on the basis of positive test results."

The MPs argue that the relevance of most tests still is poorly understood. Carrying a particular gene may indicate a predisposition to develop a particular disease, but it is not predictive, and it is unclear how insurance companies should use such information.

They also are concerned that an obligation to reveal test results could affect people's health by deterring them from taking tests. More research is needed to establish the effect of insurers' use of results on the number of patients seeking treatment.

On this basis, the report calls for a voluntary moratorium on the use of genetic tests of two years to allow further research into the actuarial and scientific relevance. Michael Clark, chairman of the committee, said, "If the insurers are unable or unwilling to enforce this moratorium, we recommend the government enforce it by legislation."

At present the industry body, the Association of British Insurers, is bound by a voluntary code of practice, and is able to use information from genetic tests subject to the approval of GIAC. Last year GIAC approved the test for Huntington's disease for use by insurers, but the report says that once GIAC is reformed it should re-examine this decision.

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