Australians are avoiding genetic testing out of fear it will rule them out of life insurance, according to the nation's peak medical body.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for a legislated ban on the use of genetic testing in life insurance underwriting.
In a submission to the Australian Treasury, AMA president Steve Robson said genetic testing and genomic research can identify a need for potentially life-saving treatment, but people are discouraged from participating out of fear of being frozen out of insurance if a genetic risk is uncovered.
"Genetic testing and genomic research have the capacity to rapidly transform healthcare in Australia by potentially providing more cost-effective treatment options and improving patient outcomes by identifying a need for treatment before an issue arises," Professor Robson said.
"The industry has placed its own partial moratorium on the requirement to disclose genetic test results, but we need a legislated ban to give consumers absolute certainty that their genetic status won't be used by insurers to freeze them out of certain levels of cover."
Under the current moratorium, life insurance providers are able to ask for and use genetic test results if the total amount of cover in an application exceeds certain monetary thresholds.
"Having a legislated ban on the use of genetic test results is the only way to ensure Australians feel safe and confident their genetic results won't result in discrimination," Prof Robson said.
"Genetic testing should be incorporated into everyday healthcare.
"We need a national approach to the provision and regulation of genetic testing to ensure equitable access to testing in Australia."
In its submission the AMA said unless required by law there should be no compulsion or coercion of any person to undertake a genetic test, and a patient's genetic status should never be used to limit their access to medical care.
It said that in general, genetic information acquired in the context of the doctor-patient relationship should not be disclosed to a third party without the patient's consent.
The Council of Australian Life Insurers supports a ban on the use of genetic test results in insurance underwriting.
In a statement, the council, which represents 19 insurers, said it recognises genetic testing can play an important role in giving people peace of mind and empowering them to reduce potential health risks.
"With genetic testing becoming more prevalent in the community, now is the time for federal government regulation to ensure that no Australian is deterred from taking a genetic test to proactively manage their health," chief executive Christine Cupitt said.
In its own submission to the inquiry, the council said the life insurance industry supports strict regulation on the use of genetic test results in underwriting, with limited government-approved exclusions to guarantee fairness.
"We want to deliver the protection and certainty millions of Australians need on their best and worst days. Declining to offer cover is rare and only ever a last resort."
Australian Associated Press