Affordability Of Genetic Testing Set To Help In Early Detection Of Congenital Disorders

Most health insurance providers have not covered non-invasive prenatal tests until recently. The examination, which involves the extraction of blood from the expectant mother, is commonly performed to establish the presence of the predisposing factors to congenital disorders such as Down's Syndrome. However, in the case of high-risk pregnancies, the test was covered by the insurers. This meant that a majority of women were locked out of this procedure, as their pregnancies posed considerably lower risks.

Currently, top insurance institutions have added the prenatal tests to their service portfolio. This initiative has expanded the accessibility of the service to millions, which hitherto could not have afforded the costly examination. Insurers are starting to incline towards supporting genetic evaluation and screenings. The shift is further encouraged by the reducing costs of the assessments, which is ascribed to rapid technologic advancements.

As expected of any unanticipated change, the move by insurers is being met by criticism. Skeptics have raised concerns about the access that insurers have to results of such sensitive tests. Dan Mendelson from Avalere Health noted that while genetic analysis is becoming more affordable, their value is going through the ceiling. He added that the growing acceptance of the tests among insurers raises questions on how the data from the tests is used.

Genetic firms are set to the biggest benefactors of this inclination, as more clients are expected to flood in. One such firm is Natera Inc., which develops the non-invasive prenatal tests and subsequently sells them to fertility centers, obstetrics and gynecology facilities. Conferring to a study conducted by Wells Fargo, Natera is not only the fastest growing genetic test but also controls a quarter of the genomic testing industry in the US.

Until 2011, the non-invasive test was not known to many. Unlike other prenatal tests, it does not involve the insertion of a needle into the female’s womb to draw the amniotic fluid; hence the term ‘non-invasive.' The limitation of this procedure is that it can be relied upon for a full diagnosis. If the results are positive, invasive methods must follow to confirm the presence of chromosomal abnormalities. On the contrary, if the results are negative, the need for invasive procedures is negated.

The technology is being embraced by an array of the field in medicine. The reduced cost of gene sequencing has played a vital role in this adoption, having drastically reduced from costing millions to just a few thousand. Genetic firms like Natera have experienced a windfall, with client numbers soaring significantly. On their side, insurers say that their leaning toward the procedure is purely in humanitarian terms. While it is not clear if the insurers have an ulterior motive, the non-invasive methods bear more positives that considerably outweigh the clandestine reasons that the insurance institutions may have.

Source: (SF Chronicle)


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