Life insurance and science are not a typical marriage you’d expect to hear about, but I guess combining the words typical and marriage is a thing of the past in general. So, the question I’m asking myself after reading a few interesting articles is: Can we really predict the future with science?
When it comes to our future health, we just might be able to. There has been a lot of buzz around genetic testing lately and it has the life insurance industry rubbing its hands together and licking like it’s a hungry person about to be served a plate of hot food. DNA testing, which is the same as genetic testing, is really nothing new. It has become a household term in the 21st century with criminal justice shows and who’s my baby daddy shows referring to DNA tests on a daily basis; however, even though we hear “DNA testing” often, do you actually know what all can be determined by it?
Off track a bit, but one of the most random facts I found while researching genetic testing is that even the NFL has jumped on the DNA bandwagon as some of you may know. For those who don’t, get this: The National Football League does a DNA test on the official game balls before each and every game to make sure they are “official NFL approved” footballs and have not been replaced with tampered pigskins. What
? Well, footballs are made from pigskin, and pigskin has DNA since it was living thing at one time, so it too can be swabbed and tested just like a crime scene investigator would a human blood sample.
Celebrities are also using genetic testing services now for their own reasons. Some Hollywood royalty are having genetic testing done to see what their likelihood is of having a serious health problem later in life, like cancer or heart disease. These new DNA tests can supposedly tell you all the conditions your body is holding in its DNA strands. I’m a skeptic on the accuracy of this, but who am I to say?
More recently, a popular trend with African American celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, is to have genetic testing done simply to trace their roots and see exactly were their blood lines came from. The precision of these tests in this way is impressive to say the least. The gene test for Oprah Winfrey pinpointed the exact spot in Africa where her bloodline began simply by running her DNA through a database. The match came back and it showed her DNA originated from a small group of people in the highlands of Guinea called the Kpelle people.
DNA testing is nothing new, as I said before, but the availability of genetic testing is becoming easier to access in recent years and is getting much cheaper for the average person. With companies like 23andMe, a cool startup out of Mountain View, California, you can easily get a detailed DNA test for yourself by going to their website and ordering a kit for $99. It’s very simple. They send you a kit with instructions and you provide a saliva sample and send it back in their pre-paid package. Then they do their thing and provide you your DNA test results in a remarkably short amount of time.
So, if a DNA test can determine your future, at least your health future, can you see why this would make the life insurance companies drool? If not, here’s why: The entire goal of life insurance companies is to determine how likely you are to die, as terrible as that sounds, also when it might happen and from what disease. As of now, life insurance companies still underwrite applications with actuarial guesses of when they think you will die based on your medical records, family history, and lifestyle. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but the labor and cost to have a person sift through medical records (sometimes thousands of pages for those with complicated medical history) can leave the client waiting months to hear back from the insurance company as to what their final price and risk class will be. A DNA test for determining your risk of dying would be a much faster and cheaper approach if it was accurate.
So, in a world that’s becoming more and more impatient every day, why not make getting insurance easier? I think for purposes of obtaining life insurance, genetic testing could be a big positive for both the client’s time and the insurance company’s bottom line, hopefully saving them money which will be passed on to the consumer.
The question I asked myself many times while writing this is: Would I really want to know whether or not I was going to get cancer at 45 or have a heart attack at 60? Maybe. I suppose if it led me to make lifestyle changes to counteract the DNA test results, I could find peace in knowing the future of my health. For tracing bloodlines, I think DNA testing is a fun and interesting idea, and an additional tool for researching your family tree which is a very popular hobby for people today. But the thought of seeing a detailed glimpse into my future health and whether I’d really want to know is still up in the air. We’ll just have to see what the future brings.