NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Health insurance firm Aetna said yesterday that it will offer its members genetic counseling for cancer-related issues through a partnership with Informed Medical Decisions, which specializes in cancer genetics counseling.
The company said the services will be provided via phone and the web “as a component of health benefit plans which include coverage for genetic testing.” Aetna said that all discussions between its members and the genetic counselors are private “and will not be shared with the member's employer or with Aetna.”
The service is expected to "provide critical health information that members and their families can use to anticipate and reduce risk," said Aetna’s CMO, Troyen Brennan, in a statement.
Although several deadly cancers are strongly linked to inherited susceptibility, “concerns about a shortage of board-certified genetic counselors have made access to reliable information challenging for patients and physicians alike,” the company said.
Aetna’s senior medical director, Joanne Armstrong, said that there are currently fewer than 2,000 board-certified genetic counselors in the US.
Informed Medical Decisions first will evaluate the results of a free online questionnaire filled out by the customer. Those the company deems to be “at an increased risk for an inherited cancer” will then provide more detailed family medical information, and will then set up a telephone consultation with a genetic counselor. The counselor will then help determine the member’s risk level and whether a genetic test is appropriate.
Aetna said it ran a pilot program using its own employees over the past two years, and found that “only a small percentage” of employees understood their personal risk for cancer or the contribution of family history to that risk.
“Few were recommended by primary care physicians to consult with trained genetic counselors, and the majority reported that they were the first member of their extended family to ever speak with a genetic counselor,” the company added.
After the counseling services were conducted, however, Aetna said most participants “reported a significant improvement in their understanding of personal risk as well as available risk reduction strategies.”
Aetna said that the prescreening questionnaire is free, and any costs for genetic counseling and testing services are “subject to the provisions of the member's health plan, meaning the member may pay applicable deductibles and coinsurance requirements.”
Further reimbursement details were not provided.