Health insurance is one of many industries where data collection has become normalized; and current regulations and laws are proving insufficient in protecting your privacy.
December 25, 2018
A society where insurance companies could use your private data to deny you coverage, charge an “arm and a leg,” or take it upon themselves to broker your data for profit… is a dystopia. It’s an Orwellian society.
Welcome to that dystopia…
Over a ProPublica, a media outlet that “shines a light on corruption,” they put sunlight on a disturbing part of “Big Insurance’s” playbook:
Millions of sleep apnea patients rely on CPAP breathing machines to get a good night’s rest. Health insurers use a variety of tactics, including surveillance, to make patients bear the costs. Experts say it’s part of the insurance industry playbook.
Aside from finding any way to preserve profits and deny claims, health insurance companies are collecting private sleep data from CPAP patients without their knowledge. The ProPublica article continues by highlighting the result (emphasis mine):
In fact, faced with the popularity of CPAPs, which can cost $400 to $800, and their need for replacement filters, face masks and hoses, health insurers have deployed a host of tactics that can make the therapy more expensive or even price it out of reach.
The unethical “host of tactics” these insurance companies use to collect the data required to “price” the CPAP therapy leaves doctors and patients helpless. The enraging set of excuses given by insurance companies range from “the machines are noisy” to “patients don’t use them properly.” Keep in mind, this doesn’t only apply to health insurance.
You pay an astronomically high premium, and the insurance company should pay the claims. Sure, insurance fraud is a thing, but should it cost you your privacy to combat that? No, it shouldn’t.
The U.S. has a 4th Amendment that protects against illegal searches. There may need to be a law that protects your privacy against unnecessary collection of your private data. For example…
Tony Schmidt, the patient in the ProPublica story, was alarmed that his sleep data was being shared across multiple vendors, including Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS). The company said it needed the data to “ensure he was using it.”
So, if you were in Tony’s shoes, you’re just supposed to “trust” BCBS? Every person is different, so why do they get to set the “CPAP use” standard that sets your premiums instead of your doctor?
Because in this dystopia, the insurance company apparently is the doctor too.
But all of this made Tony wonder “What else are they doing?” According to the story it didn’t even matter. Federal law actually allows this egregious violation of privacy.
Short of changing the law, filing a complaint with the BBB had little effect for Tony. But his story finished on a somewhat positive note:
Schmidt returned the new CPAP machine and went back to a model that allowed him to use a removable data card. His doctor can verify his compliance, he said.
So for now, there appear to be options for other CPAP patients. But insurance companies have exploited these loopholes in the past, and they will likely do the same for this one. Over at Techdirt we get the bottom line (emphasis mine):
Of course as the internet of broken things, wireless, and other sectors make clear, once your data is collected and sold, you’re part of a system where you have little control, since using this data to make an extra buck takes absolute priority over security, privacy, or consumer welfare. And as more and more sectors begin to gobble up your daily data (from driving habits to how many times you opened your smart refrigerator), there’s an ocean of problems just over the horizon that current privacy laws and regulatory agencies are utterly ill-equipped (and usually unwilling) to address.
An “ocean of problems,” indeed. So welcome to 2018, the new “1984.” Bottom line, you shouldn’t assume the right thing is being done with your data. And it doesn’t matter if that data comes from your car, your home, your computer, or your medical device.
Right now, the rest of your private life is an open book that any insurance company or individual with the right motive can exploit.
With just a few clicks, a phone call, and a few dollars almost everything someone wants to find out about you can quickly be put together into a complete file.
And who knows how some stranger (including federal law enforcement) will use that information? So you need to start protecting your privacy any way you can, right now…
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