US health insurance shake-up brings data sales opportunities - Il

US health insurance shake-up brings data sales opportunities di martedì 5 novembre 2013
A health screening company originally founded to “empower people to take control of their own health” is now selling its data to health insurance companies hunting for new customers under US healthcare reform.
President Barack Obama’s controversial Affordable Care Act, which requires all Americans to have health coverage or pay a penalty, has provided an unexpected business opportunity for SoloHealth. The six-year-old company makes machines used by 4.5m people every month to check their vision, blood pressure and body mass index for free.
SoloHealth earns money from advertising on the kiosks which are placed in 3,300 Walmarts and other stores across the US. But since October 1, the day state and government health insurance marketplaces opened, making plans available directly to all consumers, it has been selling the data it holds on people using the machine as leads to insurers.
“Lo and behold, the Affordable Care Act comes out, and we’re like ‘we are where all these people are that the insurance companies want to sign up for these plans’,” said Eric Hoell, senior vice-president of product and operations for SoloHealth. “We said, ‘Wow we’re in the right place at the right time’.”
Privacy advocates, however, are concerned that people do not understand the scope or implications of sharing their health data, a practice that is set to increase under the US healthcare reforms because of the emphasis put on preventive healthcare as a means to control costs.
“The problem is, do people really know where this information is going, and do they really understand when they sign that authorisation that the information is going to an insurance company?” Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said.
SoloHealth also gets paid for sharing biometric data such as blood pressure or BMI with insurers that gets passed on to employers sponsoring health plans, with the consumer’s consent.
Some employers intend to track employee health, then charge unhealthy people more for health coverage. SoloHealth’s contracts for this and other services for insurance companies are worth anywhere from $250,000 up to $3m per contract.
Mr Hoell said customers are asked specifically to give consent before SoloHealth sends their name and phone number to insurance companies. Bart Foster, chief executive, said privacy was a “big deal” for the company and if people were very concerned, they could always use the machines without entering their name or email address. Walmart said the kiosks “are an example of one of the many health and wellness products and programmes we offer customers”.
But Ms Dixon said that “even though they have the letter of the law covered, I don’t think they covered the expectations of consumers. One of the top privacy nightmares is having your information sold to an insurance company.”
One woman who sat down at a SoloHealth machine at a Walmart in Oakland said she never entered her personal information.
“I just use it to check my blood pressure, then I get on with my day,” she said.


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