Calls for ban on insurance companies using genetic testing information as doctors warn it puts Kiwis at risk

Medical professionals are calling for better regulation of health insurance to stop genetic discrimination.

New research shows Kiwis who seek genetic testing for a range of health conditions, including cancers, could see their insurance premiums rise, or be denied coverage all together. It's a situation one professional warns could be putting people's health at risk. 

Centre for Cancer Research acting director Andrew Shelling told AM on Friday most other countries New Zealand compares itself to have regulations in place to protect people. 

"It's a strange situation where we find ourselves in New Zealand being quite out of step with the rest of the world," Shelling said. 

"Many of us involved in genetics and genetic research have enjoyed over the last 20 or 30 years the development of genetic tests that can change people's lives. We often call them lifesaving genetic tests. But we are in a position where insurance companies can actually use that information to either deny people insurance or use it to set premiums."

Shelling said New Zealand needs to introduce a ban on insurance companies using this information like Australia and Canada have done.

"The rest of the world has moved on. Australia has a moratorium, countries like Canada have banned this… to allow people to undertake genetic tests without fear it's going to change their ability to get insurance."

He said breast and cervical cancers often run in families and genetic testing can empower people to take preventative measures if they are at a high risk. But the current settings mean people aren't getting them out of fear of it affecting their insurance. 

"We want a ban… so people can freely get genetic tests done without fear it's going to affect their health and wellbeing in the future."

Shelling said between five and 10 percent of all cancer is genetic and there is now the ability to test for risks cheaply and easily and it can have a huge impact on the outcomes of patients in the future.

Watch the full interview above.