(Editor’s note: A more extensive version of this story will appear in next week’s Chronicle.)
Highmark, Inc. will be changing its medical policy in January 2013 to provide insurance coverage for genetic tests for Ashkenazi Jews between the ages of 19 and 29.
Genetic screenings can determine whether an individual is a carrier for any of 17 genetic diseases common among Ashkenazi Jews. About one in four Ashkenazi Jews are “healthy carriers” of a genetic disease, meaning they show no symptoms of the disease, but can pass down the genes to their children.
Whether one potential parent is a carrier is critical for family planning, because if two carriers of the same Jewish genetic disease have children, the couple has a 25 percent chance of conceiving a child affected by the disease.
That Highmark has decided to cover these genetic screenings is a victory for Jewish health care advocates who urge all young Jews to get screened before they try to have children. When not covered by insurance, testing for the full panel of Jewish genetic diseases runs about $4,000 a person.
If two carriers of the same Jewish genetic disease do wish to have children, options such as adoption, in vitro fertilization and sperm or egg donation can then be considered.
A grant requested by the Hillel Jewish University Center, and funded by the Highmark Foundation, has provided free screenings and genetic counseling to about 500 young Jewish Pittsburghers over the last two years. Now, with Highmark’s change in its coverage policy, genetic screenings will be affordable and available to an even greater number of young Jews.