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Medline ® Abstract for Reference 37

of 'Genetic testing'

Patients' fear of genetic discrimination by health insurers: the impact of legal protections.
Hall MA, Rich SS
Genet Med. 2000;2(4):214.
PURPOSE: The impact of laws restricting health insurers' use of genetic information has been assessed from two main vantage points: (1) whether they reduce the extent of genetic discrimination and (2) whether they reduce the fear of discrimination and the resulting deterrence to undergo genetic testing. A previous report from this study concluded that there are almost no well-documented cases of health insurers either asking for or using presymptomatic genetic test results in their underwriting decisions, either before or after these laws, or in states with or without these laws. This report evaluates the perceptions and the resulting behavior by patients and clinicians.
METHODS: A comparative case study analysis was performed in seven states with different laws respecting health insurers' use of genetic information (no law, new prohibition, mature prohibition). Semistructured interviews were conducted in person with five patient advocates and with 30 experienced genetic counselors or medical geneticists, most of whom deal with adult-onset disorders. Also, multiple informed consent forms and patient information brochures were collected and analyzed using qualitative methods.
RESULTS: Patients' and clinicians' fear of genetic discrimination greatly exceeds reality, at least for health insurance. It is uncertain how much this fear actually deters genetic testing. The greatest deterrence is to those who do not want to submit the costs of testing for reimbursement and who cannot afford to pay for testing. There appears to be little deterrence for tests that are more easily affordable or when the need for the information is much greater. Fear of discrimination plays virtually no role in testing decisions in pediatric or prenatal situations, but is significant for adult-onset genetic conditions.
CONCLUSION: Existing laws have not greatly reduced the fear of discrimination. This may be due, in part, to clinicians' lack of confidence that these laws can prevent discrimination until there are test cases of actual enforcement. Ironically, there may be so little actual discrimination that it may not be possible to initiate good test cases.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157-1063, USA.