UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 23, 2009

HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES SPYING ON PRESCRIPTION RECORDS

Another problem raised by Obama's medical records plan: abuse by the insurance companies he wants still to be major players in our medical system.

Joanne Waldron, Natural News - The Washington Post reports that health and life insurance companies use a type of consumer health "credit report" that is derived from databases containing the prescription medication records on over 200 million Americans. In fact, some insurers are already testing information systems that contain information about the laboratory test results on patients. Previously, in order to determine insurability, insurance companies had to rely on records obtained directly from physician's offices. Insurers these days, however, rely on records that are obtained electronically at a very low cost (currently about 15 bucks), and these records are often used to deny people health insurance. . .

Some of the information stored about each consumer includes a history of five years worth of prescription medications and dosages, dates they were filled/refilled, the therapeutic classes of the drugs, and the name and address of the doctor who prescribed each medication. From this information, each consumer is assigned an expected risk score (kind of like a credit rating, except instead of measuring one's credit worthiness, it measures one's expected health risk).

It is doubtful that most doctors bother to warn their patients that taking optional or unnecessary medications could make it impossible or very expensive to get health insurance. In fact, most patients mistakenly believe that it is illegal for companies to sell private consumer health information. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, according to the aforementioned Washington Post article, one doctor reported that she prescribed a drug called Amitriptyline for migraine headaches, and the patient was then denied life insurance due to the fact the medication was also an antidepressant. The article also asserts that insurers also leap to conclusions about patients' probable health outcomes if they notice that patients are taking the highest possible dosage of, say, a cholesterol medication.

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