July 26, 2018

How Big Data Could Affect Your Health Insurance

Insurance companies are collecting data on consumers to better calculate health risk.

Big Data has been in the news over the last couple of years, with Facebook and other sites receiving scrutiny over the sale of personal information. While much of that has centered on politics, the fact is, health insurance companies are also buying up online data — and it could be impacting your pocketbook.

One big reason for this is because the insurance companies are for-profit businesses. As such, they try to reduce risks (and thus expenses), increase the effectiveness of every dollar they do have to spend, and still provide enough value to you (the paying customer) that you won’t leave them for a competitor. In this, they are no different from an automaker, or the contractors who build (or renovate) your home, or even your local grocery store.

Then again, you aren’t mandated to buy any of those things…

These days, to help reduce risks (or to at least get a handle on the risks), National Public Radio reports that the health insurance companies are buying up social media and purchasing data and linking them to those they insure to get a better picture of the particular risks they face. When it comes to health, some of it is due to hereditary factors (genes), some of it is due to environmental factors (how good or bad the air and water are, among other things), and some of it is due to personal choices (smoking, drinking, what you eat, etc.).

Now, this acquisition of personal data is legal, but it is going to still have some side effects. For instance, short-term health plans can still deny people coverage if they are sick. Other companies may decide to charge more for plans across the board. Or the data could be used to generalize for an area, hitting those individuals who don’t quite fit the general picture. Some actuarial companies are reportedly trying to figure out how to use the personal data as a pricing tool.

The so-called “Affordable” Care Act, which will be defended to the death by Democrats, has been causing the price of health insurance to skyrocket for the last few years now. And we have too much red tape tying up health care, and too many regulations and bureaucrats getting between doctors and patients. Now comes this data fiasco, which is inevitably going to lead to calls for more government involvement to stop the collection.

What is really needed is less red tape and fewer regulations, and a lot more flexibility in the market. But that market has to protect patients and consumers. How to do that is the question.

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