Harvard twin study reveals impact of environment and genetics on insurance rates

Insurance Rates - Harvard University

Researchers examined the impact of the environment and genes across 560 common conditions.

The results of a new Harvard Medical School (HMS) twin study examined the way different factors affect insurance rates. The research was conducted in conjunction with the University of Queensland in Australia.

The method used in order to examine the factors involved in calculating insurance premiums was novel.

The researchers used twin data sets provided by Aetna insurance company. That insurer did not provide funding for this study. Instead, the insurance rates research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, as well as funding from the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation.

The data provided information regarding the impact of environment and genes in 560 different common conditions. One of the outcomes the study aimed to achieve was to determine which factor was more important in determining insurance premiums, ZIP code or genetics. This research, therefore, examined the extent to which environmental and hereditary factors affect not just health but also what people pay for their insurance coverage.

The research examined data from thousands of twin pairs to better understand what impacts insurance rates.

The data for the twin pairs came from a huge insurance database of almost 45 million people across the United States. The medical conditions taken into consideration for this study crossed 23 different categories, including everything from neuromuscular disease to cardiovascular illness and skeletal conditions.

The results of the study were published in the Nature Genetics journal on January 14, 2019. With data from over 56,000 twin pairs it made it easier for researchers to get a better understanding of what ends up affecting insurance premium calculations.

Most diseases aren’t either caused by environmental or hereditary factors. They are a combination of the two. Therefore, the researchers needed to take great care to separate the impact of genetics versus the effects of a person’s environment. The twin study made it possible to examine different outcomes within matching gene sets.

Morbid obesity was found to be the disease with the strongest socioeconomic status link, reported Harvard News.

““The nurture-versus-nature question is very much at the heart of our study. We foresee the value of this type of large-scale analysis will be in shining light on the relative contribution of genes versus shared environment in a multitude of diseases,” explained Chirag Patel, senior author of the study and assistant biomedical informatics professor at HMS’s Blavatnik Institute.

The insurance rate research determined that an analysis of genetic and environmental factors could predict nearly Insurance Rates - Harvard University60 percent of monthly health spending. On the whole, climate conditions, air quality and socioeconomic status within the ZIP code of each twin pair had a notably lower impact on disease than shared environment and genetic factors.

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