Genes, Testing, and the Angelina Jolie Effect

Posted on March 14, 2018

In May 2017, the Canadian parliament passed the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (GNA) – formerly known as Bill S-201 – that precludes, under certain conditions, the insurance industry’s ability to use genetic tests for underwriting. The GNA, an Act to prohibit and prevent discrimination, states that genetic test information can no longer be requested or used in rendering underwriting decisions.

In 2013, actress and activist Angelina Jolie announced that she is a carrier of the inherited BRCA breast and ovarian cancer gene mutation. As a preventative measure, she underwent a prophylactic mastectomy and preventative hysterectomy to reduce the risk of developing these cancers. Following her announcement, a study in The British Medical Journal* revealed a large spike in the number of BRCA testing requests. This highlighted the power of celebrity endorsements as well as the public’s concern of breast cancer being a major health issue.

How the GNA will impact underwriting and product pricing remains to be seen. Genetic testing science keeps evolving and it is now very easy to purchase home test kits for the growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing market. PPI and insurers are taking measures to comply with the law. We will monitor the application of the GNA in the marketplace and participate in the review of our cases to ensure equitable, compliant and prompt treatment in light of the changed legislation. We’ll keep an eye on this and report back from time to time.

Note: DTC genetic test kits cannot identify all gene mutations, so testing through specialized medical clinics is recommended for individuals with a family history of certain diseases.

To learn more about the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, please visit the Government of Canada Justice Laws website.

*Source: British Medical Journal, 2016; 355: i6357, Anupam b. Jena et al.