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Insurance and Healthcare in the Molecular Age

Mittra, J

Biodata, Health and Security Research Workshop

Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Lancaster

Invited discussant |

June 29 2007

Insurance as Social Barometer

Insurance is a social technology that is highly sensitive to changing information about life and changing understandings of life. It acts as a political and social barometer quickly registering political and social concern about the risks to which life is subject and the social technologies through which those risks are managed. In that sense insurance may be regarded as an early warning system whose highly individualised micro-level practices quickly register social change and responses to the changing provision of social welfare, in particular, in modern societies. One example is that offered by the crisis over Genetics and Insurance which erupted at the end of the 1990s.

This crisis precipitated the introduction of the Moratorium on the use of predictive genetic testing for underwriting life and health insurance in the UK, a moratorium regulated by the Genetics and Insurance Committee (GAIC). The crisis was itself linked to understanding of genetics, genetic information and the use to which genetic information might be put which were current at that time. On the basis of simplistic understandings of genetics and predictive genetic testing, in particular, there was a widespread fear expressed in Parliament and among the public that the use of predictive genetic testing would exclude large numbers of people from access to valued forms of social welfare; specifically, life and health insurance.