Think Twice About Your Health Plan’s “Wellness” Review

It’s currently trendy for health plans to try to get their insureds to undergo a “wellness” screening in which the insurer collects personal health and lifestyle data from the insured.  These are often pitched as a benefit to the insured with the health plan saying, basically, “let us give you this great free screening!”   Sometimes the insurer even offers gift cards or other goodies to insureds who participate.

But as is typical for anything the company is incentivizing insureds to do, “wellness” screenings are often in the insurer’s interest – not the individual’s.

Health insurers have begun routinely collecting insured’s personal health and lifestyle data to justify premium increases based on the minutia of an individual’s daily life.   Just like tech companies can use the minutia of your personal data for marketing purposes, health insurers can use insured’s lifestyle and biometric data to raise premiums.

A recent NPR report details how “the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details.”  Besides mundane details like race or education, insurers also reportedly track what TV you watch, your social media habits, and your online shopping, among other things.   One company boasts it collected health data on 150 million Americans going back to 1993.  Another filed a patent application to gather health-related information from social media.

Insurers use this data to price health care plans.  For instance, insurers reportedly consider women purchasing plus-size clothing to be at risk of depression; minority insureds to be more likely to live in dangerous neighborhoods; and recently-married insureds to be more likely to need childbirth care.

Insurers’ use of this data raises broader questions about the use of the data we readily share in the digital age, but it also emphasizes that the health insurer’s “wellness” exam might not be the altruistic offer it’s pitched as.

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