Health Insurers Using Personal Data to Profile Patients

CONSORTLV conf 2011 mcgeveran JPG
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The perils of the Big Data era seem to increase every day. The most recent area under scrutiny is the use of personal data by health insurers to track "race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. . . what you post on social media, whether you're behind on your bills, [and] what you order online," according to a new investigative report by ProPublica and NPR. The article notes, "At a time when every week brings a new privacy scandal and worries abound about the misuse of personal information, patient advocates and privacy scholars say the insurance industry’s data gathering runs counter to its touted, and federally required, allegiance to patients’ medical privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, only protects medical information." Patient advocates are concerned data will be used to set insurance rates and can lead to false assumptions about health-related habits, even though it may be factually incorrect. Prof. William McGeveran of the University of Minnesota Law School, contrasts the robust marketplace for personal data in the US to Europe, where "data protection is a constitutional right." McGeveran is a member of the working group for the Consortium's LawSeqSM project.