Insurance Industry Concerned by Genetic Testing Prohibiting Bill S-201

Published: September 20, 2016

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



The insurance industry has acted with reservations over Senate Bill S-201, which will be discussed in the Commons this week. It is a bill that prohibits and prevents genetic discrimination, but the Huffington Post reports that the insurance industry is cautious about the bill, which will be discussed on Tuesday.

The bill has already been cleared through the Senate, unanimously. Liberal Senator James Cowan has fought a long fight to protect Canadians who want to be genetically tested by employers and insurers. Cowan’s attempts have failed twice, but there is more hope of the bill passing this third time.

“Fear of genetic discrimination is stopping many Canadians from having genetic testing that their doctors believe would benefit them,” Cowan reasoned before the Senate.

Genetic discrimination is when an employer/organization fires or treats differently an employee found to have a genetic disorder. The bill aims to protect these employees. Another example could see insurance companies increase their premiums on life insurance policies or even deny coverage if a genetic disorder is found.

Some argue that insurers already require medical tests and raise premiums based on results or health issues, so genetic tests could be viewed as fair game. This view was raised by Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association president and CEO Frank Swedlove. He told senators that the industry already allows applicants to know more about health risks.

This is directly contrary to the principle of equal information, which is the foundation of our insurance system,” Swedlove clarified.

If passed, Bill S-201 will stop employers or companies from making genetic tests a requirement or to disclose results. The bill also amends the Canada Labor Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, allowing both to prohibit discrimination based on genetic characteristics. Violators could pay fines of up to $1 million, and could face imprisonment for up to five years.

Swedlove points out that insurance companies have a right to know the results of such tests, while Canadian Institute of Actuaries fellow Jacques Boudreau suggested premiums would surge for life insurance should the bill be passed.

“We are deeply concerned that the vast majority of the public will have to pay more for insurance because of the increase in premiums to fund the cost of anti-selection,” Boudreau remarked.

“Their principle concern is that someone will go, find out they carry a gene and increase their life insurance,” pointed out Liberal MP Rob Oliphant. “Our primary concern is someone is going to not find out they have that gene, and not do proactive medical care, and, more likely, die quickly and not pay their premiums.”