Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Insurers: the biggest data threat?

January 29, 2009Privacy

If a movement grows to wall off our data and block out the Numerati, good chance it come from fears about insurance-company abuse. And some of them may be well founded. I just came across this August story from the Washington Post detailing how insurers crunch our pharmaceutical data.

Of course, it's a very good idea. They can use it to study the effectiveness of medicines for certain groups of people. They can do all kinds of correlations. And it's all happening outside the reach of medical regulators. Even without gaining access to our medical records, many of which are marooned on paper in file cabinets, they can learn a lot about us and the medicines we take.

From the article:

Ingenix, a Minnesota-based health information services company that had $1.3 billion in sales last year -- and Wisconsin-based rival Milliman -- say the drug profiles are an accurate, less expensive alternative to seeking physician records, which can take months and hundreds of dollars to obtain. They note that consumers authorize the data release and that the services can save insurance companies millions of dollars and benefit consumers anxious for a decision.

The risk is that the companies will be found to use this data to deny us coverage, and to make more money. And the response then might be to lock down medical data--which we need, under the right conditions, for medical research.

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