Genetic discrimination impacts cancer patients without insurance coverage

This year 67 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day — 14 of those women will die every day, according the latest statistics from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.

It’s a harsh reality for so many women in Canada and Teresa Quick is a prime example of that statistic.

The Toronto woman lives with the fear of getting cancer one day.

Both Teresa’s mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 34 and then ovarian cancer at the age of 51, and grandmother died from cancer.

With a history of cancer in her family, Teresa opted to get genetic testing, specifically for the BRCA 1 gene mutation also known as the cancer gene.

When she was 27, Teresa tested positive for the mutation.

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The result meant she has a very good chance of getting breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her lifetime.

To help reduce her chances significantly, Teresa opted to have a preventative double mastectomy.

Teresa is still at risk of getting cancer, but her chances are much lower.

However her story does not end there.

Teresa bought a condo and got a mortgage 5 years ago and to provide herself with extra protection in case she got sick, she applied for critical illness insurance that would help cover her mortgage in the event she fell ill and would require to take time off of work for treatment.

Teresa’s application was denied because of her family history with cancer.

Teresa’s case represents the situation many women with cancer and the BRCA gene mutation face when it comes to acquiring private insurance.

If the applicant has a family history of certain cancers or mutations like the BRCA gene, there is high chance they will not get insurance.

Allison Hazell, a genetic counsellor with Medcam, says this not uncommon.

“When someone is perfectly healthy but there is a known specific hereditary mutation in the family that causes a specific disease they are eligible to do testing for that known mutation. And if they test positive for that mutation or they do carry that mutation, there is a risk that an insurance company might say even though you are perfectly healthy right now, we are going to deny you insurance based on the fact that you carry that particular mutation,” Hazell told Global News.

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In Teresa’s case, although she did have preventative surgery done, because of her family’s medical history, she was denied coverage.

“”If I were to get sick and I was unable to work and I was trying to get treatment I would have a very large expense. Mortgage is my biggest expense,” Teresa said.

Her mother was tested positive for the BRCA gene, but for fear that her daughters would face discrimination, she kept the results sealed.

“My mother had her test results sealed for this exact reason. She did not want my sister or I knowing whether we were BRCA positive or negative based on her results because it would be used against us,” Teresa recalled.

Global News contacted the insurance company that denied Teresa’s application.

Due to privacy reasons, they could not comment on her specific case.

They did however send us this statement on their policy regarding insurance coverage approval:

“TD Insurance offers critical illness insurance on credit products, designed to benefit customers in the event they suffer a critical illness such as stroke, heart attack or cancer … generally when coverage is not offered it’s due to the existence of underlying medical conditions or risk factors. As a general rule, TD Insurance looks at the existence of underlying medical conditions or risk factors before extending coverage, by asking our clients to fill a questionnaire.”

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Now Teresa was given accidental insurance coverage, so if  she were to get into a fatal accident, her mortgage would be covered.

However, for Teresa’s peace of mind, the critical illness insurance is what she really needs in order to ensure she will have money to cover her mortgage payments if she were to get sick and require treatment.

In 2008, the United States passed a ban on genetic discrimination by insurance companies.

In Canada, the issue still remain up for debate.

There is a bill, however, on the table that will actually ban insurance companies in Canada from basing their coverage on genetic testing.

That bill is expected to be brought before Parliament once again, in the coming weeks.

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