In­sur­ance can be a slip­pery slope

Sackville Tribune - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages

I am a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion. I’ve been one my whole life, and, for that mat­ter, so has ev­ery­one else.

The only ben­e­fit, I sup­pose, is that I don’t yet know ex­actly what that con­di­tion will turn out to be. Even­tu­ally I will. And, even­tu­ally, as ge­netic re­search gets bet­ter and bet­ter, maybe my in­sur­ance com­pany will, too.

I started think­ing about this as I watched the planned changes to U.S. health in­sur­ance fol­low­ing the Con­gres­sional re­peal of Oba­macare. (Don’t worry, I’m not go­ing to de­volve into a col­umn about Amer­i­can gov­er­nance.)

The bill that was passed last week in the U.S. Congress made many changes, but one of the most in­ter­est­ing things was what hap­pened to cus­tomers with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. They may now end up pay­ing much more.

And the list of pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions is huge. You could have to pay sub­stan­tially more for health in­sur­ance if you have any one of 50 is­sues, in­clud­ing obe­sity, men­tal dis­or­ders, di­a­betes or Crohn’s dis­ease. There are sugges­tions that you’d also pay more if you had is­sues like acid re­flux, heart­burn, Lyme dis­ease, mi­graines, sleep ap­nea and the list goes on. Trou­ble for other peo­ple far away, right? Yes and no.

Prob­lem is, the world – and the in­sur­ance world in par­tic­u­lar – is learn­ing more and more about risk, and more and more about the in­ti­mate de­tails of the peo­ple it chooses to in­sure. It’s a sim­ple fact of busi­ness that in­sur­ance is, in fact, busi­ness.

If an in­surer could find a way to screen out poor risks – if the in­dus­try could find a way to drop poor risks al­to­gether – it would do bet­ter fi­nan­cially.

Right now, my smart­phone keeps track of the dis­tance I walk ev­ery day. I didn’t ac­tu­ally ask it to do that, but it has records go­ing back to when I got the phone. It’s in­ter­est­ing data my in­surer might like to have and might even re­quest. It’s not in­con­ceiv­able that my phone might prove whether or not I lied about the amount of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity I do in a week.

I re­mem­ber well when I first got life in­sur­ance sep­a­rate from work and an ex­tremely pleas­ant rel­a­tive of Count Drac­ula showed up at my house, stuck a nee­dle in my arm, and drained sev­eral vials of blood to screen me for things that would make me a poor prospect.

I’m sure they’d like to screen for more is­sues, and I’m sure that, as the years go by, re­searchers will have a bet­ter and bet­ter idea about what I’m pre­dis­posed to have hap­pen to me. Even­tu­ally, re­searchers, doc­tors and in­sur­ers will prob­a­bly have a pretty good idea what will fin­ish me off – un­less, of course, it’s a care­less step off a curb and an in­tem­per­ate meet­ing with the front end of a speed­ing bus.

They might not get an ex­act when and why, but in­sur­ance com­pa­nies will al­ways want to shed risk. It might even lower in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums for those out­side the risk pool – but in a way, it will also stop be­ing in­sur­ance.

Cana­dian in­sur­ance com­pa­nies agreed to vol­un­tar­ily halt ask­ing po­ten­tial cus­tomers to re­veal any ge­netic test­ing they’ve un­der­gone if the cus­tomer is look­ing for $250,000 or less in life in­sur­ance. The pledge came only after a pro­posed law was put for­ward ban­ning the prac­tice in Canada – the law was pro­claimed last week, but the fed­eral govern­ment plans to re­fer the law to the Supreme Court.

But as our neigh­bour to the south proves all too well, things change.

If you are the per­fect client for in­sur­ance, you’re some­one who pays in, with­out ever fil­ing a claim.

When will ill­ness stop be­ing fate, and start be­ing pre­dis­po­si­tion?

Quicker than you think. We’re more than half­way there now.

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