Older Americans were warned last month about scams surrounding DNA tests that could cost them money and lead to Medicare fraud.

In essence, the issue surrounded numerous “free DNA testing” schemes using telemarketing, health fairs and even ice cream socials to get senior citizens to give up a swab of their cheek and, along with it, personal information and Medicare numbers.

What do these schemers get out of this? Most immediately, they got Medicare numbers that can be used to bill for the tests. When Medicare doesn’t pay – and it won’t, because they weren’t ordered by a physician – the test recipient gets a big bill themselves.

Another real value may be the DNA swabs themselves, for the personal and health data reveals plenty that can be sold.

Aren’t DNA results just as private as any other health information, which is generally more protected than any other kind of personal information?

Not necessarily, and especially when the results are obtained as part of a massive fraud attempt.

The question is important beyond the overtly shady practices. Several large companies offer home DNA testing for fun purposes, such as identifying ancestry. Those same companies are working to make sure privacy rules affecting them are not burdensome, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

These companies currently work on a kind of honor system. The most publicized gap in their privacy was using a relative’s DNA gathered by one of the services to catch the Golden State Killer.

That’s a good outcome, but it’s not universal. It’s unclear whether those companies could market results to insurance companies or employers, both of whom have a financial interest in the health and health prospects of individuals.

Congress may take up DNA privacy rights next year. There may be enough of a public groundswell to make more privacy protections a no-brainer. Otherwise, it may go nowhere in an election year.

For now, different agencies are advising people to be aware of the possible far-reaching consequences of DNA testing results. Senior citizens, in particular, are warned not to accept “free DNA tests” or any tests that aren’t prescribed by a doctor.

The best protections for DNA data appear to be within the health care establishment, which is obliged to follow numerous and general privacy laws.

Congress should act, though. Individual DNA results should enjoy the same privacy protections as any other medical information.

— Today’s News-Herald

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