The health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans. The companies are tracking race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth, postings on social media, slowness paying bills, and what you order online. Complicated computer algorithms then produce
predictions about how much your health care could cost them.
Are you a woman who recently changed your name? You could be newly married and have a pricey pregnancy pending. Or maybe you’re stressed from a recent divorce. That, too, the computer models predict, may run up your medical bills. Are you a woman who has purchased plus-size clothing? You’re considered at risk of depression. Mental health care can be expensive.
Low-income and a minority? That means, the data brokers say, you are more likely to live in a dilapidated and dangerous neighborhood, increasing your health risks.
Insurers contend that they use the information to spot health issues in their clients — and flag them so they get services they need. And companies like LexisNexis say the data shouldn’t be used to set prices. But as a research scientist from one company told me: “I can’t say it hasn’t happened.”
There sems to be a new privacy scandal every week. We worry about Chinese and Russian spying, but it emerges that we are spied on by our fellow citizens, arguably more thoroughly. The Federal government requires the health industry to strictly adhere to client privacy (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, only protects actual medical information). The insurance industry is not only incredibly bureaucratic and inefficient, but it seems it is breaking the law as well. Chance of such a powerful group of companies being held to account? Zero. On top of this the client has to deal with a system designed to avoid paying out, and which ties the customers up for weeks or months of futile correspondence and time wasting (Cigna for instance).
Epicurean answer: the single payer systems used in France, Germany, UK etc. which cost half or three quarters as much as the American system and have better outcomes. My doctor told me that he was not in the health business just for money, but to help people (I absolutely believe him), but he is not usual. The health system should not prioritize money over patient health. Lousy system!