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Are doctors obliged to give your full medical history to a life insurer?

If you indicate on your life insurance application that you have a particular medical condition (such as asthma), does the life insurance company have any right to request your ‘full’ medical history from your doctor?

This is roughly the question that has been tested with the Privacy Commissioner by the New Zealand Medical Association recently. You can read the report here in the NZ Herald.

The short answer according to the commissioner, Marie Shroff, is “no”.

(This was also the conclusion we reached in our blog post almost two years ago… which you can read here.)

So what does this all mean?

If you disclose a medical condition such as asthma, your medical practitioner is not compelled to provide any of your medical history, other than your medical history specifically relating to asthma.

A good thing, no?

Well, yes and no.

On the one hand, there may be circumstances that people may feel are private, and unrelated to any condition that should affect their insurance application. So from this perspective, it is a good thing that these records can be kept private from the insurer, or from anyone else for that matter.

On the other hand, however, in some respects it may cause an insurer to miss something of importance that they in fact should know about. What about the asthma sufferer that also had an undisclosed gastro condition? This ruling prevents the opportunity for the insurer to discover this, and price the policy accordingly.

Unfortunately these things are never straightforward but hey, the commissioner's ruling rules…

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