Most say they would pay for employee-subsidized genetic testing

Some would pay as much as $1,000 for genomic sequencing offered through employer health plans.
By Mike Miliard
12:30 PM
genetic testing

As genetic tests become less expensive, more diverse in their diagnostics and easier to administer, they're starting to proliferate and find their way into the coverage offered by commercial payers.

Wamberg Genomic Advisors and Global Healthcare Resources announced a partnership this summer to offer genomic testing to insurance and employer groups, with the chance to integrate tests into employee benefit packages. The goal is to help individuals before more informed about their health status and developed personalized health plans tailored to their specific genetic profile.

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"As more people have their genetics sequenced, the industry as a whole will be able to provide additional insights and more accurate predictions as we better understand the genetic components of disease," said Tom Wamberg, CEO of WGA, when the partnership was announced.

A new survey from WGA shows that employees are receptive to that idea.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents to its poll said they might pay for genetic testing if their employer were to offer affordable access – and as long as the the results were kept private and shared only their physician.

More than a quarter (26 percent) of employees, meanwhile, said they'd consider genetic tests if they free. Just 9 percent said they had no interest in such personalized testing.

The scope and variety of tests and reports that can be offered is expanding rapidly, WGA points out: from whole genome and whole exome sequencing, to cancer genomic profiling and pharmacogenomics.

The new report suggests employees would like to take advantage of them – and sometimes pay substantial money for them – if their companies were to contribute $1,000 each year to a tax-free medical expense account.

Thirty-three percent of the 536 U.S. consumers (aged 26 to 64) with employer-sponsored health insurance, said they would pay $100; 19 percent would pay $250; 8 percent would pay $500; 4 percent would pay $1,000 or more.

"For employers considering genetic testing as a voluntary benefit, these results show that their employees will likely see value in getting genetic testing – and they are willing to use their health spending account funds," said Phil Smalley, MD, chief medical director of WGA.

But just because a genetic test is available doesn't necessarily mean a person should take it.

For one thing, there are valid questions about privacy protections, as Jessica Langbaum, principal scientist at Phoenix-based Banner Alzheimer's Institute told Healthcare IT News recently. 

"People have very big concerns about privacy, confidentiality, insurance discrimination, employment discrimination, you name it," she said.

For another, even if a test were to detect genetic abnormalities that could indicate susceptibility to a particular disease, there's not always anything that can be done about it.

"People should take a step back and ask, by having this information, what would it do for them – what would it change in their life, would it help them in any way, are they actionable results?" said Langbaum.

"Even though companies are trying to make the information clear to consumers, people are still confused about their risks for actually developing the disease," she said. For instance, "we don't advocate for people learning their genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease, because outside of perhaps participating in a clinical trial, there's nothing we can tell them to do differently."

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