How social networking can affect your health insurance rates

Social Networking Can Affect Your Health Insurance Rates

Few things are more personal than your health history. That’s the reason doctor-patient confidentiality exists. No one needs to know the details of your medical treatment except your doctor and you. Oh, and your health insurance company.

Unfortunately, health insurance companies are more interested in minimizing risk to investors than keeping customers healthy. That’s why some individuals, particularly those with preexisting conditions, are denied health coverage or charged prohibitively high insurance rates.

Even healthy candidates are asked dozens of questions about every aspect of their health to ensure that they’re paying the correct rates. Increasingly, however, health insurance companies are doing more than simply asking individuals about their health histories; they’re investigating for themselves through Internet and social media searches.

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In August 2009 ReputationDefender LLC CEO Michael Fertik appeared on an episode of “FOX & Friends Weekend” to discuss how social networking profiles have become valuable resources for insurance companies looking to increase their premiums.

This article will further describe how health insurance companies use the Web to assess an individual’s risk and explain some of the reasons how social networking can affect your health insurance rates.

 

Your photos don’t match your illness.

A Quebec woman made headlines in 2009 when her insurance company cut short her long-term sick leave because of photos she shared on Facebook. The woman, who was suffering from severe depression, lost her insurance benefits when her insurer saw pictures of her on the beach. The photos themselves didn’t seem like they were enough to justify such drastic action, but they were enough for the company to cut her loose.

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The lesson from this story, besides the fact that insurance companies focus on the bottom line above all else, is that you must be careful about what kinds of photos you share online.

In this case the woman had no reason to expect that photos of her beach vacation would cause her to lose her benefits. But what about someone who receives disability benefits because of a bad back and then shares photos that show the person jumping on a trampoline or lifting heavy boxes? An insurance company would be justified in cutting their benefits or insisting on higher premiums.

 

Your “check-ins” show a pattern of risky behavior.

Mobile check-in technology is the next big thing in social networking. The basic idea is that users check in to a destination and then publish the activity to their status feeds. Geo-location services have grown so big that even Facebook has mobile check-in features through its Facebook Places service.

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Of course, when you’re checking in all the time, you’re also publicly broadcasting where you are and what you’re doing. So if you check in to a bar or cigar shop regularly, you might be telling your health insurance provider that you’re a risky customer. Even if you don’t drink when you’re at the bar, or buy cigars when you’re in the cigar store, the perception that you do could be enough for companies to consider raising your rates.

Consider how social networking can affect your health insurance rates, before making your next "check-in".

 

You “like” dangerous activities.

Swimming with sharks can be a wonderful pastime, but it’s not something that goes over well with an insurance actuary. When an insurance company assesses your risk, they look at both your health history and your lifestyle choices. If you regularly engage in dangerous or life-threatening activities, it stands to reason that an insurance company won’t offer you cut-rate premiums.

You might also face higher insurance premiums by liking activities or sharing beliefs that aren’t outright dangerous but that suggest a lax attitude about physical fitness. For instance, if you go on and on about how great double quarter-pounder cheeseburgers are or why you think that working out is for losers on your Facebook wall, your insurance company might take that into account during its next round of rate hikes.

Keep your online actions in mind when you contemplate how social networking can affect your health insurance rates.

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