Genetic Research, DNA profile reflected in a test tube containing a sample
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

A groundbreaking partnership to provide preventative genetic testing for U.S. life insurer MassMutual’s policyholders is being expanded. Working with Genomics, the insurer will offer certain policyholders at home, saliva-based tests from Genomics that generate  polygenic risk scores (PRSs) for nine common preventable conditions. The aim is to help policyholders  make better health decisions. The insurer will get no personal data on the participants.

“This offering allows us to further support policy owners on their path to a healthy life by learning about their risks and making informed health choices. Based on the success of our initial research collaboration, there is high interest from policy owners to act on the information they receive,” said Sears Merritt, head of enterprise technology and experience, MassMutual.

The tests cover eight conditions—atrial fibrillation, breast or prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low bone density, and type 2 diabetes. PRS involves adding up the risk contributed by a range of different mutations, such as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, to estimate lifetime risk of a disease. Such scores are increasingly being used to improve disease risk prediction.

The expansion follows an earlier successful research collaboration in which more than 70% of Mass Mutuals policy owners who elected to use the service reported they intended to take preventative actions based on their risk scores, such as to see their doctor or seek further screening.

 Genomics reports, “The predictive power of this new type of genetic risk testing [polygenic risk scores]  has the ability to improve individuals’ health outcomes by increasing patient engagement and activation and helping doctors make more informed decisions and recommendations for their patients.”

During the companies’ initial research collaboration, one in five of the MassMutual policy owners who participated learned that they are at a higher risk for preventable diseases. The expanded program offers eligible MassMutual policy owners aged 35-70 access to the testing. In addition to learning about their risk for each of the conditions, policy owners also receive actionable, tailored health advice and a report they can review with their doctor to reduce the chances of developing the condition.

The companies emphasize, “a shared commitment to data privacy. Policy owners participate on a voluntary basis.” Test results are never shared with MassMutual and do not impact current premiums or policies. MassMutual only receives high-level, anonymized data from Genomics that allows the insurer to better understand aggregate policy owners’ health and behaviors and interest in these types of offerings.

“While the study of genomics is not new, it now provides an enormous opportunity to help individuals live their longest, healthiest lives. By giving individuals and their doctors much more precise information about the particular health risks they face, they can take the right actions, at the right time, to help prevent disease entirely, or to catch it early when outcomes are much better,” said Sir Peter Donnelly, co-founder and chief executive officer, Genomics.

MassMutual says its collaboration with Genomics is part of the insurer’s broader Health and Wellness Program, which develops initiatives that provide policy owners with insights into their potential health risks, with the goals of empowering them to access appropriate interventions and motivate them to adopt healthy behaviors and lifestyles. 

Also of Interest