A Senate bill seeking to ban discrimination on the basis of genetic characteristics that’s moving to the House of Commons next week has significant implications for the life insurance industry as well as group insurance polices and other areas of employment.

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association opposes the bill, arguing it would violate the principle of equal information. “The concept of equal information and of a good-faith contract is at the absolute core of insurance and is enshrined in all insurance legislation in every province across Canada, so this is a huge step backwards from that principle and we’re very concerned with that,” says Stephen Frank, senior vice-president of policy at the CLHIA.

Vote in our poll: Should the federal government pass the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act?

For individual life insurance policies, the changes could mean people who get a negative test result would be more likely to get a bigger policy while those who test positively would get less coverage or none at all, says Frank. “The pool of risk starts to change and the cost of running the insurance changes. So we’d have to, over time, raise premiums to account for that and we worry people will opt out of coverage as the costs rise.”

There would be less of an impact on group life insurance policies because they don’t generally underwrite the individual, adds Frank, noting “the issues won’t be as acute there because we don’t ask for that information and we don’t need it.”

Read: Genetic testing: The next employee benefit?

The legislation, Bill S-201, also proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code by adding a new section designed to protect the genetic information of employees of Crown corporations and businesses that fall under federal jurisdiction. For example, such employees would have the right to refuse to take a genetic test or disclose the results of one.

In addition, the bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include genetic characteristics as a prohibited ground of discrimination alongside other areas such as race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status and disability. “There would also be prohibitions against employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who exercise their rights,” says Jennifer Stewart, an associate at law firm DLA Piper (Canada) LLP.

“It could come up in cases where employers ask employees or people they are thinking of hiring to take a medical exam as a condition of being hired,” she says. “It could come up in workplace injury cases and in cases of illnesses or absences where an employee might be on an extended leave or have multiple absences.”

Read: Is personalized medicine the future of benefits plans?

The bill is the topic of this week’s online poll. Don’t forget to have your say: Should the federal government pass the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act?

Last week’s poll asked whether the federal government should reinstate lifelong pensions for disabled military veterans. The majority (91 per cent) felt the move to lump-sum payments was wrong, while just nine per cent suggested the government has to carefully consider its duties to veterans.

Military benefits

Read: Lawyer for veterans wants Liberals to live up to election promise on pensions

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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