Despite how expensive health insurance is in the U.S., health insurance companies are looking for new ways to raise your costs or exclude you from coverage altogether. They're using the power of big data to squeeze out every penny you’ve got, but there are still ways to fight back.
In the hit movie Minority Report, we see a world in which people can be arrested and punished for pre-crime. Gifted children who can see the future are used to witness crimes before they happen, allowing authorities to arrest perpetrators before they commit any crimes.
Hovercars and prophetic children are still in the realm of sci-fi (for now), but predictive analytics is real. This is the use of historical data to predict actions or trends among groups or individuals in the future.
This concept is nothing new, and health insurance companies have been using it for a while. However, the data they used has been limited to information that we naturally assume them to have access to – case reports, medical histories, etc. Now, they want to extend their influence into our daily lives. They want to collect and use data that you never thought could be used against you to exclude you from healthcare or increase your insurance costs.
Imagine if your insurance costs could go up because your insurance company found out you:
As NPR’s report on the subject puts it:
“The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They're collecting what you post on social media, whether you're behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.”
We all know that Big Data means big money, but who pays for all that data? One of those wealthy clients might be your insurance provider.
The NPR report helps reveal how this is taking place – right out in the open. There are large conventions where data brokers and health insurance companies rub shoulders and sales representatives shrug dismissively at the suggestion that their data might be used to set prices and exclude users. Getting the data is the easy part. The hard part is doing so quietly and preventing a public backlash.
These are the two main sources of data your health insurers are looking for:
Genetic data could also offer a wealth of information to health insurance providers. Fortunately, that data (if identifiable) is currently illegal to access and use in the US. Life insurance providers, however, can access it. In 2016, FastCompany published the story of a woman whose otherwise clean life insurance application was rejected due to her genes. There's also no telling how that data might be used in the future.
23andMe, one of the leading genetic testing and genealogy companies, recently provided pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline with access to their trove of genetic data as part of a $300 million research deal. Their customers have to opt-in as part of that deal, and the data will be used to develop new drugs, but the company has openly said that it will look for new ways to monetize genetic data in the future. According to 23andMe board member Patrick Chung, “The long game here is not to make money selling kits, although the kits are essential to get the base level data. Once you have the data, [the company] does actually become the Google of personalized health care.”
Health insurance companies can use both anonymized data and data that they can link to you. The anonymous data can be used to make inferences about the behavior of different populations, while individual data can be used to compare them to the population and decide how to charge them or what service to deny them.
We know how insurance companies can use your data and how they can get it. What will that mean for you?
These practices may sound ruthless, but they have been used for ages. Signing up healthy patients is called cherry picking, while the act of excluding at-risk patients is called lemon dropping. The only difference is that new mountains of data will make this practice easier than ever.
M.D. Mary O’Connor explains the issue from a medical practitioner’s perspective on clearhealthcosts.com:
“The dirty little secret of current medical payment changes is doctors and hospitals now have a financial incentive to not provide care for some patients, those who put the providers at higher risk of financial penalties. We call this phenomenon cherry-picking and lemon dropping.”
There are other problems, too. Insurance companies are juicy targets for malicious hackers. Insurance companies already host some of the most sensitive data you could possibly have. Combining that with individually identifiable data makes your insurance company a hacker’s one-stop shop for identity theft. And they do get hacked.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Analysts can use almost any aggregated data about you and people like you to perform predictive analysis or to compare you to profiles they already have.
The best thing is to change your perspective on data and reduce your data footprint in every way possible. Many people shrug off the growth of big data, saying “so what if these companies have my data? There are worse things in this world than ads.” You may not have known, however, that your growing data footprint can cost you your health.
Here are some tips for ways to reduce how much they know about you:
There are many ways to help reduce your data footprint, and many of them aren’t easy. One is though – you can get NordVPN right now to prevent ISPs from collecting and selling your data.
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