Corporations Mine For Personal Data in Health Reform

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No one who watched the development of the federal health reform law ever doubted that companies would find ways to make money from it. So far it's been mostly expensive seminars to tell health insurance managers how to comply with the law–and maybe evade it a little. But a new twist showed up today, and it's an "aha!" moment.

A company called Health Plan Services announced a new service to insurance companies Wednesday: RebateLink, "a flexible processing solution that reduces costs associated with medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates." So far, it sounds like a fine idea. Under health reform, insurance Companies that fail to spend 80% or 85% of our premium dollars on health care have to pay a rebate to each policyholder. Having a central clearinghouse could make the process cheaper and more efficient. But deep in the announcement we find that what Health Plan Services really wants is our personal data:

"By taking advantage of the unique marketing opportunities presented by the rebate process, RebateLink can also turn a profit drain into a revenue gain," said [CEO Jeff] Bak. "The experts at HPS work with carriers to leverage the data collected by RebateLink to improve cross-selling and design tailored retention strategies, and to provide comprehensive member support services."

So RebateLink, and Health Plan Services, will use our data to help the insurance companies sell us more stuff :

"Dear Policyholder, We notice that you have no dental insurance,"  or

"Did you know that we offer our health policyholders a discount on life insurance?" (This notice would be only for the heatlhiest policyholders.)

Health Plan Services could also sort out the richest targets by how much they pay for their policies, and on and on.

The company no doubt has more clever ideas that I can't imagine. But it's disturbing that a clear consumer benefit of the law–the rebate requirement–is now being sold to insurers as a way to mine more profit from our personal health insurance data.

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