I was surfing the web at my own sedate pace in search of wisdom about the beta interferon debate when the newspapers hit the mat on Monday morning. Usually I take their front pages in my stride.

Not this week.

'Insurers to DNA test for genetic illnesses', thundered the Daily Telegraph. It reported that ministers are to allow a controlled experiment that could lead to people with a genetic disposition to certain chronic conditions - from breast cancer to sickle cell - having to pay higher medical, life or travel insurance. Radio 4's Today also got excited.

But haven't Alan Milburn and Frank Dobson repeatedly said that fast-developing genetic technologies will strengthen the case for what insurers call 'pooled risk' (ie the NHS), and undermine private health insurance by rendering high-risk customers uninsurable, I said to myself - and to a chum of the Department of Health whose pager I importuned.

Well, yes. I was right - that remains the DoH's longterm assumption. But a balance must be struck, my chum conceded. You can't force people to take these tests. But equally, you can't have the customer/patient getting a test kit from Boots and knowing things about their medical condition which the would-be insurer doesn't.

Validity and regulation are the key words. The tests must be valid, orderly ones. It did not stop Lib Dem medico-MP Evan Harris (Oxford West and Abingdon) warning the Telegraph that only doctors should be allowed to gene-test people, lest insurers be allowed to create a genetic underclass.

That's racing ahead a bit. Coincidentally, I had been talking to his fellow Lib Dem, Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam), about his latest probing debate on postcode prescription of beta interferon as a treatment for MS.

As you know, the debate is now in the clutches of NICE, leaving many MS sufferers 'in limbo, waiting to see whether the drug clears the affordability hurdle', as the MP told the Commons.

My website researches revealed 2 million sufferers worldwide, up to 90,000 in Britain, as well as myriad drug trials to alleviate symptoms and slow down nervous decay. But beta interferon is the issue here, and a week earlier 1,000 people had lobbied Parliament on the postcode point.

Mr Burstow, a 37-year-old class of '97 MP with an interest in disability, outlined the familiar disparities in specialist care and support systems around the country: only 8 per cent in one survey are able to see rehab specialists. Beta interferon is not a cure, of course, but slows down the rate and severity of recurrence for many - not all.

There are claims in the US of real long-term gains too, one of many disputes which NICE seeks to arbitrate, along with the chances of targeting patients who would benefit from what is, after all, a£10,000 a year option for NHS managers and doctors. Meanwhile, only two in 100 sufferers in Britain get the drug, the EU average being 12.

That much we know. But Mr Burstow's chief concern - apart from the timetable for NICE's revised guidelines on use (superseding the 1995 and 1999 guidelines) - is whether ministers accept 'that it would be ethically unacceptable for MS patients to have access to beta interferon only by joining a clinical trial'.

That is an intriguing dilemma: a number of neurologists have protested against the prospect that their patients may be forced to choose, either to take part in a NICE trial ( in which case they would stand a 50-50 chance of being given a placebo, not beta interferon) or not to have the drug at all while the trial lasts. Many will not co-operate with a trial on these terms.

What we are talking about here is less medical efficacy, more cost-effectiveness. In other words, money - LSD, as we said in pre-decimal days, when it also had links with hallucinogenic tripping. Talking of which, it did occur to me when Minister Hutton noted that trials are underway on the therapeutic use of cannabis by MS sufferers that Treasury penny-pinching may be the key to that particular liberalisation of the law.

I wish I could report Mr Hutton's reply, but Commons adjournment debates are time-rationed and he ended with the tantalising words: 'With this in mind. . . ' He did promise to write to Mr Burstow, who was still waiting and still gloomy when I phoned him. Ministers have been sounding increasingly negative towards beta interferon for 18 months, he says.