In­sur­ers could take an ac­tive in­ter­est in you

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

You get more bees with honey than with vine­gar — but that doesn’t mean a diet solely of honey is nec­es­sar­ily healthy.

Look at it an­other way: the car­rot of­ten works bet­ter than the stick, but the goal is pretty much the same — to get the don­key to go where you want it to go.

And hello, fit­ness tracker. In the United States, health in­sur­ers are not­ing the growth of fit­ness track­ing de­vices, and are con­sid­er­ing them, in some cases, to be proof of an ac­tive life­style. (Keep in mind, this in­volves health ben­e­fits in the U.S. that cover med­i­cal care, some­thing that’s al­ready cov­ered by our fed­eral and provincial gov­ern­ments.)

Al­low in­sur­ance com­pa­nies ac­cess to your Fit­bit or other track­ing de­vice, and if you’re reach­ing goals the in­sur­ers set, you qual­ify for rate cuts, re­bates, or in some cases, gift cards.

Some com­pa­nies pro­vide that for their em­ploy­ees as well.

But there’s an in­ter­est­ing thing to con­sider in all that — over­all med­i­cal costs stay the same, so if you’re pay­ing less be­cause of your healthy life­style, chances are some­one else is pick­ing up the slack.

In Canada, Man­ulife started mus­ing about a re­wards pro­gram or re­bates for peo­ple who reach ac­tiv­ity goals as far back as 2016. At the time, the com­pany’s ar­gu­ment was that, “It rev­o­lu­tion­izes the in­sur­ance mar­ket in Canada.” At least, that’s what Man­ulife pres­i­dent and CEO Mar­i­anne Har­ri­son told the Toronto Star. “It’s a new per­spec­tive in terms of look­ing at con­sumers and help­ing them to lead long, healthy lives.”

But what about the dark side? If you sub­scribe to cheaper in­sur­ance rates tied to your fit­ness tracker, what’s the mes­sage your in­sur­ance com­pany is go­ing to get if your fit­ness num­bers lag, or if, heaven for­bid, you tell them you’d like to opt out of the pro­gram? Red flags all around.

Would they even want to in­sure you, or at least in­sure you at rates you can af­ford, if you’re es­sen­tially con­firm­ing that you’re go­ing to be more seden­tary than you have been in the past?

In­sur­ance rates are set based on the ac­tu­ar­ial re­al­i­ties of the amount of money that com­pa­nies ex­pect to have to pay out. You may pay in to life in­sur­ance for years, reach an age where it’s no longer cost-ef­fec­tive to stay in­sured (or an age where you no longer need to worry about, say, help­ing your chil­dren with their ed­u­ca­tion) and might let it lapse.

More in­for­ma­tion about in­di­vid­u­als al­lows in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to “game” their num­bers; if you knock a cer­tain num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als out of the gen­eral rate pool be­cause of their health­ier life­styles, you have a cor­re­spond­ingly smaller pool of riskier clients — and ev­ery­one knows, the in­sur­ance in­dus­try loves to charge for risk. Just ask any­one who opens the en­ve­lope to find their new in­sur­ance rates af­ter their young­ster has a fen­der-ben­der.

It re­minds me a lot of the idea of the risks of al­low­ing in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to use ge­netic test­ing results to de­ter­mine pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

In some ways, with­out be­ing flip, life is a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion. You can’t use a Fit­bit to fore­cast if some­one is go­ing to get hit by a bus at age 32 while they are cross­ing the street, but there are plenty things, from cancer on down, that can be fore­cast from a lit­tle peek at your ge­netic in­for­ma­tion.

And re­mem­ber, it’s not all about the nuts and bolts of what you are shar­ing — it’s the over­all re­view of every scrap of avail­able in­for­ma­tion.

There’s also a pos­si­bil­ity that cross-ref­er­enc­ing ac­tiv­ity and other de­vice-mon­i­tored health in­for­ma­tion with other data could cre­ate a pic­ture of the type of cus­tomer that in­sur­ers wouldn’t want to have.

Too much in­for­ma­tion truly can be a dan­ger­ous thing.

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