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Coverage Lagging Behind

Actress and director Angelina Jolie's disclosures about undergoing a preventive double mastectomy after genetic testing found a heightened risk of breast and ovarian cancer and, more recently, the removal of her fallopian tubes and ovaries, has spurred others to seek testing. One recent study found a 40 percent increase in testing after Jolie's first op-ed appeared in the New York Times.

But many women seeking such tests are running into insurers that don't cover them, Reuters reports. Insurance companies like Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna aren't paying for multi-gene panel tests, it adds. The panels, which Reuters notes cost between $2,000 and $4,900, test some two dozen genes at once.

The companies argue that the tests are unproven and may lead patients to seek unnecessary treatment, while physicians, genetic counselors, professors, and diagnostic companies say that by not covering these tests, insurance companies are endangering patients who could otherwise be making changes to their diets or undergo more vigilant screening.

Cigna's David Finley tells Reuters that further study is needed to ascertain the risk and guidelines for each gene tested, but Mary Daly, the chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, says that without insurer coverage of the tests, there won't be enough data to analyze their effectiveness.

"In general, the trend is moving toward more genes," adds Ambry's Carin Espenschied. "Research and insurance companies kind of just have to catch up."