New York Times, May 12, 2017
Gina Kolata


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Pat Reilly had good reason to worry about Alzheimer’s disease: Her mother had it, and she saw firsthand the havoc it could wreak on a family, much of it financial.

So Ms. Reilly, 77, a retired social worker in Ann Arbor, Mich., applied for a long-term care insurance policy. Wary of enrolling people at risk for dementia, the insurance company tested her memory three times before issuing the policy.

But Ms. Reilly knew something the insurer did not: She has inherited the ApoE4 gene, which increases the lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “I decided I’d best get long-term care insurance,” she said.

An estimated 5.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, and these patients constitute half of all nursing home residents. Yet very few people in the United States have been tested for the ApoE4 gene.

But last month, with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, the gene testing company 23andMe began offering tests that reveal whether people have the variant, as well as assessing their risks for developing such conditions as Parkinson’s and celiac disease.

Other genetics companies are planning to offer similar tests, and soon millions of people will have a better idea what their medical futures might be. Recent research has found that many, like Ms. Reilly, are likely to begin preparing for the worst.

But for companies selling long-term care insurance, these tests could be a disaster, sending risky patients in search of policies even as those with fewer risks shy away, damaging an already fragile business. “There is a question about whether the industry is in a death spiral anyway,” said Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. “This could make it worse.” [...]

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