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Biotechnology

Getting your genome sequenced might not make you spend more on health care

March 22, 2018

Geneticists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that genome sequencing, a type of test that provides a full readout of your DNA, didn’t significantly increase health-care spending in the short term.

Sequencing for everyone? As genome sequencing gets cheaper and becomes more widely available, a major concern has been whether it will make people use more health services. Returning detailed genetic results to healthy people could make them seek out medical tests, screenings, or preventive procedures that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten—and that they might not need.

The cost question: Among 100 patients with a known heart problem, the Boston team found that the average cost of health care over six months was $8,109 for those who had received genome sequencing and $9,670 for those who didn’t get the test. For 100 primary-care patients who were “ostensibly healthy,” average costs were slightly higher in the group that got sequenced—$3,670 versus $2,989. The researchers say those differences weren’t statistically significant, because costs varied a lot among individuals.

The caveat: The researchers only looked at health-care costs over a six-month period. That may be too short a time frame to understand how genome sequencing will affect health-care spending over the long run.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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