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Department & Division News

Your Data Will Never Be Used Against You at APWU

(This article first appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

By Health Plan Director John Marcotte

As an advocate for workers and quality health care, I am disturbed by recent media reports about health insurance companies using data collected from non-medical sources. The implication is that this could be used to set rates for health insurance premiums.

First let me assure you that the APWU Health Plan does not do business this way. I personally find this practice discriminatory and reprehensible; it defies the entire construct of health insurance. The APWU Health Plan was created by postal workers banding together to share the financial burden of health conditions should any one of us be unfortunate enough to have or contract one of these conditions. This is a proud heritage and one I believe is worth fighting to defend.

Much of health care in the United States is corporate controlled and there is a surge of for-profit companies buying out non-profit hospitals and clinics. I believe this trend, coupled with the current federal administration’s tear down of protections Americans had under the Affordable Care Act, has emboldened large health insurance companies to go forward with this ill-advised business model. The Holy Grail for these companies is to go back to the days of charging ridiculously high premiums or refusing to pay for preexisting conditions. These companies want to charge more for health care based on factors they assume will drive up your health care usage and costs. I believe this would make health care impossibly expensive for many of us at any age and all of us as we arrive at middle age and beyond.

This is the divide and conquer strategy often used by those wanting to take away what workers have gained in the past. They want to pit currently healthy workers against those receiving care with promises of lower premiums. I believe the end result would be the end of affordable employer-paid health care, which is most likely the ultimate goal.

Here are some quotes from a report on NPR.org:

“The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They’re collecting what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them…”

"Are you a woman who recently changed your name? You could be newly married and have a pricey pregnancy pending. Or maybe you’re stressed and anxious from a recent divorce. That, too, the computer models predict, may run up your medical bills…”

“Are you a woman who has purchased plus-size clothing? You’re considered at risk of depression. Mental health care can be expensive.

“Low-income and a minority? That means, the data brokers say, you are more likely to live in a dilapidated and dangerous neighborhood, increasing your health risks...

“Insurers contend that they use the information to spot health issues in their clients – and flag them so they get services they need. And companies like LexisNexis say the data shouldn’t be used to set prices. But as a research scientist from one company told [the reporter]: ‘I can’t say it hasn’t happened…’

Data collected can be error ridden and algorithms can be flawed – garbage in, garbage out. HIPAA laws do not protect your information outside of the health care industry.

The good news is the APWU Health Plan opposes using information in this manner and we are committed to our founding principle of workers taking care of workers. APWU Health Plan – Together Better Health! ■