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Life Health > Annuities > Fixed Annuities

John Hancock to Pilot 50-Cancer Detection Test

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John Hancock wants to find out what happens when life insurance insureds get a blood test that might reveal early signs of about 50 different types of cancer.

The Boston-based Manulife subsidiary is working with Munich Re and other reinsurers to offer a pilot program that will pay either 50% or 100% of the cost of Grail’s Galleri cancer screening test for insureds in the John Hancock Vitality wellness program.

John Hancock will not get individual test results for the insureds who use the pilot program, nor will the program results affect the participants’ coverage, premiums or Vitality points.

Brooks Tingle, CEO of John Hancock Insurance, emphasized in an email interview that John Hancock sees the pilot project as a way to help the insureds.

“John Hancock is committed to helping its customers live longer, healthier, better lives by offering them the latest tools and technology that can help them make informed choices about their health,” Tingle said. “John Hancock wants to make customers aware of the technology so that they can decide if taking the test is right for them.”

What It Means

Grail is charging just $949 for the Galleri test, an affordable price for most of the relatively affluent people who participate in the John Hancock Vitality program, as well as those who buy cash-value life insurance or annuities from John Hancock or other carriers.

John Hancock’s pilot test might give life insurers an early idea of what consumer access to the Grail test might mean for life insurance claims and annuity income obligations.

The Test

Grail, a subsidiary of Illumina, developed the test using technology for detecting “cell-free nucleic acids,” or bits of cancer cell genetic material that float in the blood.

The test appears to detect early signs of many cancers, such as ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer, for which no other screening tests exist.

Many health plans already pay  for DNA-based tests that screen for colon cancer, and only for colon cancer. The price of one popular DNA-based colon screening test, the Cologuard test, is around $500.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the Grail test a breakthrough device designation, and Grail is in the process of seeking FDA approval.

Grail itself has a clinical laboratory certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments  of 1988 standards, and it’s presenting the Galleri test as a “laboratory-developed test” aimed at people ages 50 or older, or who are believed to have an elevated risk of cancer for other reasons.

Patients need a prescription from a health care provider to get the test, and Grail emphasizes that a positive result simply suggests that a patient may need to go through a diagnostic process, and that the test itself does not diagnose cancer.

One common concern about any new cancer screening test is that the test might end up detecting very small cancers that would never become serious enough to affect a patient’s health, and that efforts to fight those very small cancers might be more dangerous to the patient than the cancers.

Grail says clinical trials show that the test has a low “false positive” rate and that 92% of the participants who had a true positive result said they were satisfied with the test.

Grail says it found that, in the small number of cases in a Galleri test that involved false positive results, only about 30% of the participants with false positive results had invasive diagnostic procedures; none of the diagnostic procedures led to adverse events; and some of the participants who did undergo invasive testing did so for reasons not related to the Galleri test results.

Other Insurers

Point32Health, the health plan formed from the combination of Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, announced plans in February to cover the Grail test through a pilot program and see what happens.

Another health insurer, Fountain Health, announced in August that it’s adding Grail test benefits to its preventive services benefits package and paying 100% of the cost of the test.

Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect description of the status of Grail’s efforts to seek approval for the Galleri test from the FDA. The FDA has given the test breakthrough device designation. Grail is still pursuing FDA approval for the test.

(Image: PopTika/Shutterstock)


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