MCED Tests: A Win-Win for Consumers and Companies
In the landscape of healthcare advancements, multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests are a beacon of hope, with the potential to revolutionize early cancer diagnosis. Simultaneously screening for multiple types of cancer in otherwise healthy people, these blood tests can help detect early cancer in parts of the body that are not easily accessible for physical exam or biopsy.
LIMRA explored the public's perception of MCED tests in our July and October 2023 U.S. Consumer Sentiment surveys. With 2,006 and 3,000 adults respectively representing the U.S. population, the surveys provide insights into consumer opinions of the tests — in general and when made available by one’s life insurance company — and serve as a good reminder of the complicated dynamic between consumers and insurance companies.
Consumer Opinions of MCED Tests and Industry Implications
Despite their promise, today’s consumers are largely unaware of the existence and scope of MCED tests. Just 1 in 10 adults are somewhat or very familiar with the tests. Nonetheless, nearly 3 in 5 survey respondents (57 percent) said they’d be interested in taking a blood test to screen for cancer, many noting the benefits of early detection.
Consumers’ reaction to the test and how it might impact their thoughts about life insurance forces us to consider the potential implications for our industry if and when MCED tests or similar medical advancements have widespread availability to the general population. What might advancements of this nature mean for our core tenet of spreading risk? This issue surfaced both in terms of underwriting considerations — people were quick to point out the threat to their insurability — as well as the impact on consumer behavior and the potential for anti-selection — a notable 63 percent of respondents indicated that early cancer detection would increase their interest in life insurance.
“I worry that if it showed early signs of cancer, I would either
not be eligible for life insurance or the price would skyrocket.”
“I have no plans for life insurance yet, but ...
if the test result should come in positive [for cancer],
then I'll have no other option than to go for life insurance.”
Appreciation Meets Apprehension
But what if your life insurance company is the one providing you with the test as a benefit of having coverage with them? (This is where we imagine the average survey respondent paused to digest what they’d just read.) Indeed, this practice is gaining ground.
In partnership with GRAIL, a leading biotech company specializing in MCED tests, Munich Re is enabling carriers to bring the Galleri® MCED test to their existing insureds. Already a pioneer in bringing innovative healthcare solutions to their policyholders, John Hancock was the first company to offer MCED tests as an in-force benefit to eligible members of their Vitality Program with a pilot program in 2022.
Before capturing consumers’ reactions to such an offering, we first gauged their general understanding of a life insurance company’s interest in the well-being of their insureds. Consistent with earlier findings on this topic, a majority of adults understand, at least in theory, that life insurance companies have a vested interest in their insureds’ well-being (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The company I have life insurance with …
(Percent Agree or Strongly Agree)
Filter the data in this chart by clicking on a color bar in the chart legend.
As expected, this general understanding shapes peoples’ opinions of carriers offering services like MCED tests to their policyholders. Figure 2 illustrates the nuanced view of their reactions to the offering. While apprehension exists, with notable percentages finding it unappealing, inappropriate and/or suspicious, much greater numbers lean toward the appealing and appropriate aspects of the offering. Substantial portions expressed gratitude and increased interest in owning insurance if MCED tests were offered, indicating the potential for a positive impact on customer engagement. It’s noteworthy, however, that only a third of adults view the offering as more altruistic than self-serving.
Figure 2. Consumer Opinions of MCED Test Offered by Life Insurance Companies
Consumers’ open-ended responses were more polarized. Some respondents shared positive thoughts about the offering.
“By offering me the test, life insurance companies are looking out for my safety and health benefits.”
In equal numbers, others’ comments were more cynical.
“There has to be a motive for the insurance industry to be offering this. They are not doing this because they are being good guys; they are trying to substantially reduce their own claims risk.”
Carriers that are not already providing benefits of this nature would likely face more skepticism from their customers.
“I'm not sure why a life insurance company would offer this benefit,
as they don't pay for any other health benefits or testing.”
Though few, some comments explicitly acknowledged the mutual benefits of the offering.
“It would show the company cares for me and wants me to live longer ... they benefit by keeping the money longer and earning interest. Win-win for both.”
Building Trust Through Transparency
Earlier LIMRA research brought to light the prevalence of negative consumer perceptions of the industry and the daunting challenge of reconciling public opinion with the industry's core values. Half of adults surveyed in 2017 and 2018 held negative perceptions of life insurance companies, often attributing profit as their primary motive: “Greedy” was the single most common word used to describe an insurance company. Positive views were expressed by about a quarter of the respondents and were more aligned with the industry's underlying principles. Nonetheless, most consumers expressed a readiness to offer constructive feedback for life insurance companies to shape trust and improve public perception. Their thoughtful suggestions often centered on honesty, transparency, compassion and humanity.
For life insurers venturing into MCED test offerings, the importance of transparency becomes even more apparent. Open communication emphasizing the tests' sole purpose of bolstering policyholders' well-being without influencing premiums or coverage fosters trust. Moreover, openly acknowledging the mutual advantages, where delayed claims prove advantageous for both insurer and policyholder, would help customers recognize the value of a symbiotic relationship focused on improved health and longevity. As consumers advocate, transparency can play a crucial role in closing the gap between perception and purpose.