A couple weeks ago, I called my health insurance company because I finally got the EOB (explanation of benefits) for the genetic test I had back in December. The total amount billed to insurance by the medical center was more than $5,000. Of that total, the insurance company paid a bit less than half.
Before I had the test done, the genetic counselor told me that the company doing the test — Ambry Genetics, one of the companies I could choose from depending on which version of the test I selected — would call me to authorize any out-of-my-pocket cost above $100. As I never got a call from Ambry, I assumed that $100 was the most I would have to pay. Not a bad price if it bought some peace of mind.
(Note: Your mileage may vary. Insurance companies do not always cover genetic testing; they usually require a definite indication of a genetic risk because of personal or family health history.)
But here’s the truth of it. My out-of-pocket cost was – nothing.
Not even one bright, shiny, Lincoln penny.
According to the insurance company, by law, the testing company cannot bill me. So even the $100 I was expecting to pay remains in the bank. And that’s good news.
The other good banking news appears in this paragraph on the report of my test results:
“If you have a personal history of cancer, you may wish to pursue DNA banking. DNA banking involves providing a DNA sample to a facility who will store it for a set period of time. Since it is always more informative to perform genetic testing on someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, DNA banking helps ensure that your DNA sample would be available to your family members, should additional genetic testing options become available in the future.”
This was the first I’d heard of DNA banking. But as this chart shows, the list of gene mutations – and the related cancer syndromes – that can be tested for is lengthy and ever-changing (note the recent additions in red). As the field of genetics grows, allowing us to track our individual health inheritance, so grows the need to compile and update the genetic formulas that affect us.
The various cancer-related DNA banks scattered in research facilities around the country have been collecting data on cancer genetics for a while. As is too often true with technology, however, there’s a compatibility issue that impedes researchers who want to collect, access, and compare information in their study of cancer.
But now, the National Cancer Institute has launched a project they call the Genomic Data Commons. Researchers in this project are collecting, standardizing, and streamlining access to these data sets from cancer patients across the country. The project is part of President Obama’s National Cancer Moonshot, spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son died of cancer. So far, the data collected equals 4.1 petabytes (petabytes!) of information (1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes).
Whether it’s about the money or genes in the bank, the situation for those of us affected by cancer grows a little brighter.