Insurance companies are developing new ways to deny health coverage to customers who have preexisting medical conditions. Insurance companies are partnering with Qualcomm Life to develop a special program, which allows insurance companies to monitor customers’ activity via wearable fitness devices, such as a Fitbit. However, as Andrew Boyd reported for The Conversation in February 2017, insurance companies do not have customers’ best interests in mind. Rather, they aim to monitor customers’ data via Fitbit to deny coverage to unhealthy individuals and boost their insurance rates.
As Boyd reported, insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare now offer participants nearly $1,500 in deductibles each year for health care services, depending on how active participants are. Wellness programs like UnitedHealthcare’s offer participants motivation to become more active.
But the insurance industry has larger aims for wireless technology, too. Qualcomm has offered a $10 million prize to a team that can develop a multifunction medical device. The medical device must be able to accurately diagnose thirteen health conditions, including indicators for pneumonia and diabetes, as well as provide real time data on five vital signs, including heart rate breathing rate. As Boyd reported, this competition is in its final stages, with a winner expected to be determined later in 2017. “That could bring wearables’ insights to doctors–and insurance companies–much sooner than we might think,” he wrote.
Boyd noted that, “if used–and regulated–well, the devices can help individual patients change their daily habits to become healthier, saving insurance companies money, and passing some of those savings along to customers. Alternatively, the devices could provide justification for denying coverage to the inactive or unhealthy… Consumers should not assume their insurance companies will use their data only to improve patient care. With millions of dollars on the line, insurers will be sorely tempted. With the legal landscape around preexisting conditions in flux, people should think twice before signing up.”
As of March 27, 2017, corporate media have not fully covered this particular news report, but two major corporate newspapers have provided some coverage. In April 2015, the Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece raising concerns about how insurance companies might use Fitbit monitors. A March 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal described UnitedHealth’s wellness programs, including its $1,460 per year credits for active participants who share their data; but it did not address the possibility that other, less active insurees might be forced to pay higher rates. Overall, corporate media fail to inform their audience of the dangers of sharing personal information with health insurance companies.
Source: Andrew Boyd, “Could Your Fitbit Data be used to Deny You Health Insurance?,” The Conversation, February 17, 2017, https://theconversation.com/could-your-fitbit-data-be-used-to-deny-you-health-insurance-72565.
Student Researcher: Monica Lorena Herrera (Citrus College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)