How to See the Info Consumer Reporting Agencies Have Collected on You

In the article “How to See the Info Consumer Reporting Agencies Have Collected on You”, the website Lifehacker.com featured information from AnnualMedicalReport.com.

As Lifehacker.com explains, “When you apply for a job, auto insurance, life insurance, a bank account, or even set up your electric bill, chances are the company you’re talking to will go talk to some other companies, called consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), to find out your previous history. Under law, you have a right to see what’s in these reports.”

You’re probably familiar with the big three credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, but many other agencies collect your information for the purposes of selling reports to landlords, insurers, banks, employers, and other companies. According to Annual Medical Report:

There are roughly 400 consumer reporting agencies in the U.S., with three companies dominating the market – Equifax Information Services LLC, Experian Information Solutions Inc., and TransUnion LLC. In addition to the “Big 3″ credit reporting bureaus, there are hundreds of other “nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies” also collect and sell personal consumer information, such as banking histories, health data, medical payments, tenancy, employment, and insurance claims. These specialty credit reporting companies assemble or evaluate a consumer’s personal information, then sell it to third parties. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warns consumers that,

“Nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies focus on certain industries, such as insurance. There are a lot of these companies.”

Many important decisions are made on these CRA reports, so it’s in your best interest to make sure the information is accurate, just like you should check your credit report annually (because more than a quarter of reports have errors on them). You can’t have your information removed from these agencies altogether, but you do have a legal right to see and dispute the information. It could make the difference between getting disability insurance or being turned down for it or even missing out on a job opportunity.

Many of the bureaus will send your report for free once a year after you jump through a few online form or phone call hoops; others will require a fee. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a partial list of the major consumer reporting agencies, their contact information, and how to order your report. Here’s the link to the CFPB’s list of major consumer reporting agencies in PDF format. (Please note, the CFPB’s list of specialty consumer reporting agencies is incomplete).”

For more information, read the full article “How to See the Info Consumer Reporting Agencies Have Collected on You” on Lifehacker.com.

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AnnualMedicalReport.com Verifies Congressional Testimony of Medical Information Bureau Executive

The article “How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die” by Joel S. Winston appeared on Credit.comYahoo Finance, and MSN.com Money. The article mentioned the long history of the Medical Information Bureau (MIB Group Inc.), including MIB’s collection of codes for “sexual deviation” and “social maladjustment” during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The factual record shows that, under questioning by a Senate Banking Committee in 1973, the Medical Information Bureau’s former executive director and general counsel, Joseph C. Wilberding, testified that,”the individual consumer files collected and exchanged by Medical Information Bureau, has included information on “sexual deviation”, drug addiction, alcoholism and such hazardous hobbies as auto racing and flying.”

In a lengthy newspaper interview in 1975, Mr. Wilberding, further explained that Medical Information Bureau’s “sexual deviation” code was “aimed primarily at homosexuals.” Whereas the “social maladjustment” code Wilberding said, “included individuals ‘who are predatory and follow more or less criminal pursuits, such as racketeers, dishonest gamblers, prostitutes, and dope peddlers.’” Congressional testimony by Mr. Wilberding also revealed that the Medical Information Bureau did not independently verify whether the personal information it collected and sold was accurate or truthful.

Although Mr. Wilberding’s testimony is preserved in the public record by Congressional documents and newspaper archives, the Medical Information Bureau’s current executive vice president and general counsel, Jonathan W. Sager, objected to the discussion of Mr. Wilberding’s testimony in “How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die”. Mr. Sager commented, “Mr. Winston’s research yielded some interesting, if unverifiable, history about Joe Wilberding’s 1973 testimony before Sen. Proxmire’s committee that I cannot specifically address or refute.” Nevertheless,

Mr. Sager would not comment directly on Wilberding’s testimony. However, he said: “Let me assure you that MIB does not have codes for ‘homosexuality, effeminate behaviors, bachelorhood, HIV acquisition, and a woman’s questionable ‘moral character’ for giving birth out of wedlock.'””

But, a close review of the record shows that, in “How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die”, Mr. Winston wrote, “the “other” category in MIB files has included information on “sexual deviation” [emphasis added]. Notably, Mr. Sager does not refute that, in the past, MIB has collected personal information about individuals, including sexual deviation, homosexuality, effeminate behaviors, bachelorhood, HIV acquisition, and a woman’s questionable “moral character” for giving birth out of wedlock. (For more details on the Medical Information Bureau’s past collection of personal information, see the article, “Vintage Credit Report from 1970’s Describe Effeminate Men, Homosexuals, and Single Mothers Living Alone”.) (more…)

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How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die – Personal Finance Article

The article “How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die” by Joel S. Winston was published on June 18, 2014 by Credit.com. The article also appeared on Yahoo Finance and MSN.com Money.

“How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die”

Life insurance is arguably the most disturbing financial product a law-abiding citizen can buy. After all, life insurance is essentially an investment on your life that pays off only when you die.

If someone is buying a car, it would be normal for them to consider various features like vehicle safety and gas mileage. Comparatively speaking, someone shopping for life insurance must confront the fragility of his own existence. The mental calculus of this purchase is unnerving, “When am I going to die? What might be the cause of my death? And, how much is my life worth?”

On the other side of the negotiating table, the insurance company needs to calculate the probability of your death before it will invest in your life. However, insurers have smartly recognized that asking customers to help guess their own time and manner of death is an awkward way to sell insurance policies. As a courtesy, life insurance companies will predict your death for you. The professional Las Vegas oddsmakers who take bets for sports games call it “setting the spread.” Life insurance companies call the process “underwriting.”

Estimating Your Demise

Life insurers require massive amounts of information to profitably “underwrite” potential customers, thereby separating risky people (i.e., sick or likely to become sick) from desirable people (i.e., healthy and likely to remain healthy). To feed this insatiable appetite for intelligence, life insurers have built the most sophisticated software tools and deepest pools of consumer data on the planet.

Actually, life insurers have been pioneers in the field of big data and personal analytics for more than 100 years. The Medical Information Bureau Inc. (also known as MIB Inc. and MIB Group Inc.) was founded in 1902 and is America’s oldest and longest continuously operating credit reporting agency. Accessing 100 million records and growing weekly, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) owns and monetizes, “North America’s largest database of medical conditions on insurance applicants. [Including] diagnosed medical conditions from attending physicians, lab test results, qualified physical exams, self-admitted medical conditions.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns Americans that, in addition to medical conditions, data collected and reported by MIB may include an individual’s credit history, driving records, criminal activity, tobacco usage, drinking habits, participation in hazardous sports and “other” data. Under questioning by a Senate Banking Committee in the 1970s, MIB’s former executive director and general counsel Joseph C. Wilberding revealed that the “other” category in MIB files has included information on “sexual deviation” (i.e., homosexuality, effeminate behaviors, bachelorhood, HIV acquisition, and a woman’s questionable “moral character” for giving birth out of wedlock), drug addiction, alcoholism and such hazardous hobbies as auto racing and flying.

Jonathan W. Sager, MIB’s executive vice president, would not comment directly on Wilberding’s testimony. However, he said: “Let me assure you that MIB does not have codes for ‘homosexuality, effeminate behaviors, bachelorhood, HIV acquisition, and a woman’s questionable ‘moral character’ for giving birth out of wedlock.'” (more…)

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The Medical Information Bureau’s History of Sexual Curiosity

The Medical Information Bureau Inc. (MIB Inc.) has been the subject of ongoing controversy since the 1970′s, when its existence first became generally known. At the root of the controversy is the organization’s penchant for secrecy. For many years, insurance agencies consulted MIB without telling applicants about the files. MIB even had an unlisted phone number. Interestingly, the Medical Information Bureau Inc. also has an extensive history of sexual curiosity about Americans.

Although the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (MIB, Inc.) owns the largest database of reported medical information in North America, MIB collects more than just medical information. Personal habits, occupations, and lifestyle choices are very important to the insurance company members of the Medical Information Bureau.

For example, MIB has codes that indicate a dangerous lifestyle, including, “adverse driving records, hazardous sports, aviation activity, or homosexual lifestyle”. These codes map to similar question on most life insurance forms or physician questionnaires.

In fact, what the Medical Information Bureau keeps in its computers is information about people. Specifically, every time you report a significant medical condition on an insurance application—anything from heart problems to skin cancer—the insurance company can report that condition to the MIB. The next time you apply for insurance, your “new” insurance company will pull your MIB file and find out what you previously reported.

But, MIB’s files don’t contain your exact medical records, test results, or X-rays. Instead, each person’s file contains one or more codes that stand for a particular medical condition that has been reported for that person. Within the MIB database, medical conditions are indicated through the use of more than 200 codes; commonly reported conditions include height and weight, blood pressure, EKG readings, and lab tests. There are codes that signify diabetes, heart problems, and gender. Some codes are very detailed. For example, researchers found that MIB had five separate codes for HIV / AIDS acquisition (presumptively to identify whether the source of infection was medical or sexual).

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Download or Print a Free MIB Report Request Sample Form

The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides every consumer with the right to request a free annual medical report file disclosure from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB, Inc.) and it’s membership of 500 insurance companies.

Under consent agreements with the Federal Trade Commission in 1983 and 1995, “the MIB, Inc., and all insurance companies who are members of the MIB, will abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

To request a copy of your free MIB report, you should complete ONE of the following options:

Toll-Free Telephone – “Streamlined Request”

(1) Call the MIB, Inc. toll-free telephone number at 1-866-692-6901 to make your request. (Note – The MIB “Voice Cue” is available Monday – Friday, 6AM -12AM ET, closed on holidays. According to the MIB phone disclosure website, “MIB’s disclosure process requires you to provide your personal identification information to assist us in locating your MIB Consumer File, should one exist. The ID information you supply will be validated with other consumer reporting agencies.”  As an additional warning, please be aware that the MIB voicemail system records and retains your personal information and voice imprint. If you are suspected of fraud, MIB reserves the right to use this recording as evidence against you.)

Written Request by Mail

(2) Download or Print this free MIB disclosure request form (PDF link). Then mail the completed and signed form to “MIB, Inc. 50 Braintree Hill Park, Suite 400, Braintree, MA 02184” to make your request. (Note – MIB, Inc. has taken the position that the FCRA does not require it to comply with a consumers’ express written request for free annual disclosure of their MIB file. As a warning to consumers, MIB publicly states, “Because a consumer’s request for free annual disclosure is supposed to be submitted via the Streamlined Process [1-866-692-6901] only, MIB reserves the right to decline a consumer’s request for free annual disclosure that is made using this form [by mail]. In such an event, MIB may instruct the consumer to use MIB’s Streamlined Process [1-866-692-6901]. Alternatively, MIB may also process a consumer’s request for free annual disclosure using this form if the consumer declines to use MIB’s Streamlined Process, but agrees to pay the fee [$10.50] that is allowed by law.” It is has yet to be determined whether MIB’s refusal to honor the valid, written requests of consumers is legal or illegal under federal and state law.)

MIB.com Online Submission Form

(3) Complete and submit the MIB.com online request form located on the MIB website. (Note – When you submit your information online, it may be validated by an unnamed third-party consumer reporting agency. According to the MIB.com Website Privacy Policy for Consumer File Requests – “If you are visiting MIB’s website to request disclosure of your MIB Consumer File (if any) or to dispute its contents, MIB will collect personal information from you. This information will be securely collected and maintained by MIB and will be used solely to process your request. Specifically, the personal information that you provide to MIB will be used to verify your identity, to conduct an accurate search of MIB’s databases and to confirm that the search results (if any) actually relate to you.  MIB does not sell, share, transfer, lease or otherwise disclose the personal information that you provide to any third-parties, except that MIB will validate the information you provide with other consumer reporting agencies to confirm your identity.“)

Upon receipt and validation of your request, the Medical Information Bureau, Inc. must provide disclosure to you by postal mail within 15 business days. If MIB does not have a “consumer file” on you, the law requires MIB to provide a “no record” letter explaining that a record does not exist.

An “MIB consumer file” may include: (1) Any medical and personal information that MIB maintains in its database about you, if any, in the form of translated MIB codes; and (2) the name(s) of the MIB member insurance companies, if any, that: (A) reported information to MIB, along with the dates such information was reported; (B) received a copy of your MIB Consumer File during the three (3) year period preceding your request for disclosure and the dates the companies received your file; and, (C) made an inquiry to MIB about you within the past two (2) years, along with the dates of such inquiries.

Upon review of the contents of your MIB consumer file disclosure, if you believe that any information is incomplete or inaccurate, you should contact the MIB, Inc. directly to initiate a dispute. (The mailing address is “MIB, Inc. 50 Braintree Hill Park, Suite 400, Braintree, MA 02184”) If you identify information in your file that is incomplete or inaccurate, and report it to the Medical Information Bureau, Inc. (a specialty consumer reporting agency), the MIB must investigate your claim (unless the dispute is “frivolous”). See www.consumerfinance.gov/learnmore for an explanation of dispute procedures.

Inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information must be removed or corrected, usually within 45 days. However, the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (a specialty consumer reporting agency), may continue to report information it has verified as accurate. For all types of consumer file information, the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (a specialty consumer reporting agency), may not report negative information that is more than seven years old.

As a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency, MIB Inc. “must provide a toll-free number that is published in every telephone directory in which a number for the company appears, and is clearly and prominently posted on the company’s website. In addition, federal law requires the company to have clear and easy instructions for consumers to get these reports, and adequate staff in place or means to deal with consumers’ requests.” If the Medical Information Bureau Inc. (MIB), or any other specialty consumer reporting agency, violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) with respect to your inforamtion, you may be able to file a lawsuit seeking damages in state or federal court.

The Medical Information Bureau, Inc. (MIB), a Delaware corporation, is the world’s largest insurance reporting agency and represents approximately 500 member insurance companies.  “The Medical Information Bureau (a/k/a, MIB Group, Inc., a/k/a, MIB, Inc., a/k/a, MIB Solutions, Inc.) collects and furnishes information on consumers to all Medical Information Bureau (MIB) member corporations for use in the insurance underwriting process.”

In addition to an individual’s credit history, data collected by the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) may include “medical conditions, driving records, criminal activity, drug use, participation in hazardous sports, and personal or family genetic history, among other facts.”  Under Federal law, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) is a “consumer-reporting agency” and is required by law to provide a medical report to consumers every 12 months.

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Medical Information Bureau (MIB Inc.) is Valuable Unit of the Insurance Industry

The Medical Information Bureau, Inc. (MIB, Inc.) is a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency for health conditions and personal lifestyle data. The MIB consists of approximately 500 insurance company members.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, MIB’s member companies account for 99 percent of the individual life insurance policies and 80 percent of all health and disability policies issued in the United States and Canada.

“MIB’s value to the insurance industry can hardly be overestimated. Not only to do some applicants forget to list ailments that could cost the insurer money but fraudulent applications are common.”

The Medical Information Bureau, Inc. (MIB, Inc.) also “plays a critical role in the lives of many thousands of individuals, affecting not only their security but their finances as well. But many of those affected have little idea that the MIB played a part. This is partly by design.” (Source, “Medical Bureau is Valuable Unit of Insurance Industry” published by The Associated Press (AP) on July 14, 1971). (more…)

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MIB Executive Testifies that Reporting Agency Collects Personal Data on Sexual Deviation

The landmark consumer protection law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was passed in 1970. The FCRA, which went into effect in 1971, originally exempted disclosure of medical information by data-gathering organizations such as the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), although it did direct disclosure to consumers of information that would be detrimental to a person’s credit rating. In 1973, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, Subcommittee for Consumer Credit, held hearings on the use of medical information for insurance underwriting.

During these hearings, the Senate subcommittee chairman, Senator William Proxmire, questioned Joseph C. Wilberding, executive director and general counsel of the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). Mr. Wilberding testified that the individual consumer files collected and exchanged by MIB, “included data on sexual deviation, drug addiction, alcoholism and such hazardous hobbies as auto racing and flying.” (Source, “Insurance Data Called Faulty“, The New York Times, October 4, 1973.)

That consumers are largely unaware of the MIB’s existence cannot be blamed on individual apathy or misinformation. The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) was purposefully hidden by its employees. Mr. Wilberding also testified that “applicants for health insurance policies were “not told” that medical information would be made available to the 700 companies that support the data bank, and insisted that applicants “shouldn’t be told.” (more…)

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Health Insurance Data Privacy in the Federal Data Services Hub

The federal Data Services Hub is the essential software component of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance portal for Obamacare, without which advance premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, and direct payments to insurers would not be possible. To the credit of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Healthcare.gov marketplace, which was built by 55 contractors and now serviced by dozens more, is, “one of the most complex pieces of software ever created for the federal government. It communicates in real time with at least 112 different computer systems across the country.”

In simplest terms, the federal Data Services Hub is a “routing tool that helps Marketplaces provide accurate and timely eligibility determinations. The Data Services Hub will verify data against information contained in already existing, secure and trusted Federal and state databases.” Because the Data Services Hub provides a single connection to federal, state, and private data sources in order to verify applicant information for income, citizenship, immigration status, and employer coverage, the Data Services Hub will necessarily be handling a large volume of very sensitive personal information. In the opinion of CMS, “the Hub and its associated systems have been built with state-of-the art business processes based on federal and industry standards.”

By rough estimate, CMS is spending approximately $500 million dollars over eight years to create and manage the federal Data Services Hub technology product. For the necessary cloud computing power to host the federal Data Services Hub data, CMS paid $55.4 million to Terremark Federal Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ). CMS has also contracted with the credit reporting bureau Equifax, Inc. to obtain personal information about applicant’s income and employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. Specifically, Equifax Workforce Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of the credit bureau Equifax, Inc., has a 5 year, $329.4 million contract to provide, “information [about individual health insurance applicants] that is more current than what is available on federal income tax returns.” Furthermore, contract documents show that Equifax must provide income information “in real time,” usually within a second of receiving a query from the federal government. (more…)

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Vintage Credit Reports from 1970’s Describe Effeminate Men, Homosexuals, and Single Mothers Living Alone

Prior to the passage of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit reporting companies attempted to document all manner of personal and private information. Often, these credit reports included the personal judgments of investigators laced with prejudice. For example,

“In 1972, a man in San Francisco discovered that a consumer report about him for a life insurance policy included the comment that he used ‘his hands in an effeminate manner, also talks in an effeminate manner.'”

At that time, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB, Inc.) was under no legal compulsion to reveal itself or its activities to its customers. Researcher Robert Ellis Smith investigated these routine invasions of privacy by the insurance credit reporting agencies and uncovered “countless reports [that] included the fact that a prospected insured was living ‘without benefit of wedlock.'” Moreover, Smith reported that “unverified rumors of homosexuality” were common.
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How to Find Your State Health Insurance Marketplace

Every state has its own Health Insurance Marketplace, selling plans licensed for sale in that state. All consumers can purchase health insurance via an online health insurance marketplace and by telephone. Contact the health insurance marketplace in your state to start shopping for health insurance.

Alabama Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Alaska Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Arizona Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Arkansas Health Connector  1-855-283-3483

California: Covered California 1-888-975-1142

Colorado: Connect for Health Colorado 1-855-752-6749

Connecticut: Access Health CT  1-855-805-4325

Delaware: Choose Health Delaware  1-800-318-2596

Florida Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Georgia Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Hawaii Health Connector  1-877-628-5076

Idaho: Your Health Idaho 1-855-944-3246

Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Indiana Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Iowa Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Kansas Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Kentucky: Kynect. Kentucky’s Healthcare Connection 1-855-459-6328

Louisiana Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Maine Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Maryland Health Connection 1-855-642-8572

Massachusetts Health Connector 1-877-623-6765

Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Minnessota: MNsure 1-855-366-7873

Mississippi Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Missouri Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Montana Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Nebraska Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Nevada Health Link 1-855-768-5465

New Hampshire Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

New Jersey Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange 1-800-204-4700

New York: NY State of Health 1-855-355-5777

North Carolina Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

North Dakota Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Ohio Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Oklahoma Health Insurance Marketplace 1-855-532-5465

Cover Oregon 1-855-268-3767

Pennsylvania Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Rhode Island: HealthSource RI 1-855-609-3303 1-800-318-2596

South Carolina Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

South Dakota Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Tennessee Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Texas Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Utah Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Vermont Health Connect 1-855-899-9600

Virginia Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Washington State Healthplanfinder 1-855-923-4633

Washington, D.C.: Health Link  1-855-532-5465

West Virginia Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Wisconsin Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

Wyoming Health Insurance Marketplace 1-800-318-2596

If you live in a state that has turned over the job of running its marketplace to the federal government, when you click on the link you’ll start at Healthcare.gov, where you’ll be shown how to navigate to your state’s marketplace.

Source – “Consumer Reports – Find Your Health Insurance Marketplace.” For more information about the health insurance marketplace in your state, visit our State Health Insurance Marketplace resource page.

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Request Your Equifax Workforce Solutions Report – The Work Number – TALX Corporation

Equifax Workforce Solutions (a/k/a TALX Corporation, a/k/a The Work Number, a wholly owned subsidiary of Equifax Inc.) is a corporation that collects and sells personal information on 190 million Americans regarding employment history, week-by-week payroll, employee benefits, and employer-sponsored insurance coverage.

All consumers are entitled to request a copy of their Equifax Workforce Solutions (a/k/a TALX Corporation, a/k/a The Work Number, a wholly owned subsidiary of Equifax Inc.) without charge once every 12 months. A Work Number “Employment Data Report” includes a copy of the information potentially given to those requesting employment information on you from The Work Number. In addition, The Work Number Employment Data Report contains a list of each time a verifier has attempted to access some or all of your data using The Work Number. Individuals must contact The Work Number directly online at www.TheWorkNumber.com; by phone at 1-866-604-6570; by fax at 1-877-879-8182; or by mail at “TALX Corporation, ATTN: EDR, 1845 Borman Ct. Suite 337, St. Louis, MO 63146.”

Few consumers have ever heard of Equifax Workforce Solutions (a/k/a TALX Corporation, a/k/a The Work Number, a wholly owned subsidiary of Equifax Inc.). Even world-renowed privacy experts are unaware. “Are you joking? Oh my god, I’m shocked,” said privacy expert consultant Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute, upon learning of the existence of The Work Number credit reporting database.

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Credit Reporting Agency Equifax Workforce Solutions Hired by HHS to Verify Incomes for Obamacare Insurance Subsidies

Equifax Workforce Solutions (a/k/a TALX Corporation, a/k/a The Work Number, a wholly owned subsidiary of Equifax Inc.)  was recently awarded a federal contract by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to verify the incomes, employment, and employer-sponsored health coverage status (including price) of American consumers who apply for federal tax credits to offset insurance premium costs under the Obamacare insurance mandate (as stipulated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)).

The contract between HHS and Equifax is for an initial 12-month period, with yearly options to renew, bringing its potential value to $329.4 million over five years. As reported, “Equifax Workforce Solutions will provide information [about individuals] that is more current than what is available on federal income tax returns.” Furthermore, contract documents show that Equifax must provide income information “in real time,” usually within a second of receiving a query from the federal government.

The basic application for health coverage under Obamacare includes warnings that applicants are “signing under penalty of perjury” and consent to verify information in “databases from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security, Department of Homeland Security, and/ or a consumer reporting agency.” This arrangement is fraught with peril for consumers. Under the PPACA health insurance mandate, all consumers must purchase this financial product; for consumers seeking tax credits through federally-run HIE’s, there are no reasonable choices or alternatives but to subject yourself to the consumer reporting agency background check / income verification process.

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Who is Buying Your Medical Records from the Hospital?

Add another vulnerability in an increasingly long list of threats to patient privacy – states are selling ‘anonymized’ hospital databases containing patient medical records that can be personally identified using publicly available information.

Although seemingly ‘anonymized’, researchers at the Harvard University Data Privacy Lab have demonstrated that individual patients can be identified using only publicly available information and their medical background.

In its special report, States’ Hospital Data for Sale Puts Privacy in Jeopardy, Bloomberg News made records request to each of the 20 most-populous states for lists of who’s buying their hospital discharge data. Only 12 states responded and supplied the data; the states are Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
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States’ Hospital Data for Sale Puts Patient Privacy in Jeopardy

Hospitals in the U.S. pledge to keep a patient’s health background confidential. Federal law even establishes stringent standards for the use and dissemination of personal health information. Yet states like Arizona, Tennessee, New Jersey, New York, and Washington are endangering patient privacy by selling medical records that can be used to link a person’s identity to medical conditions via public information.

Bloomberg News, in conjunction with Latanya Sweeney, Director of Harvard’s Data Privacy Law, re-identified 35 people out of 81 sample cases searched in a database of hospital discharge records that Washington State sold to the public for $50. In another patient database sample, Latanya Sweeney was able to identify the Governor of Massachusetts using ‘anonymized’ data her lab purchased from the state. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, certain states are exposing the personal medical information of millions of patients.

The data is supposed to remain anonymous. However, a specific “state exemption” from federal regulations allows states to sell large volumes of ‘hospital discharge data’ to data brokers and nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies. Although seemingly ‘anonymized’, researchers at the Harvard University Data Privacy Lab have demonstrated that individual patients can be identified using only publicly available information and their medical background.

Twelve of the most populous states generated $1.91 million from 1,698 requests for data from 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, according to state records reviewed by Bloomberg News. Washington sold its database 95 times in 2011 and generated just $15,950.
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Companies Using Tobacco Smoking Penalty and Hiring Ban Against Workers

To fight rising health care costs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure and obesity. Cigarette smokers and tobacco users have also been added to the list of targeted employees. In all, about 40% of American employers reward or penalize employees based on tobacco use (smoke and smokeless).

tobacco-nicotine-cigarettesIn addition, a growing number of companies are refusing to hire smokers. These employers argue that coaxing tobacco users to quit with free cessation programs or cash incentives hasn’t worked. Currently, these hiring bans against smokers are legal in 21 states. More states are considering enacting hiring bans against smokers – about 4% adopting the policy and an additional 2% planning to do so next year, according to a recent study by the National Business Group on Health and consulting firm Towers Watson.

Most firms simply ask job candidates if they smoke, but a few require candidates to take urine tests to be screened for nicotine. As part of the background check, some companies are now purchasing personal information from database marketing and broker companies. In addition, nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies, including the Medical Information Bureau Inc., collect information on tobacco usage from its member insurance companies.

“It’s unethical,” says Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of medical ethics and health policy at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Employers’ main motivation isn’t employee health, he says, but “to get the smoker off their health bill and pass on the costs to someone else.” But proponents say employers have given other methods a fair shake and need a tougher approach. David Asch, who co-wrote the academic paper in support of the ban, says that with hiring bans, smokers face a social consequence that is potentially more painful than nicotine withdrawal.

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US News & World Report – How Risky Hobbies Can Raise Your Insurance Rates

US News and World Report LogoU.S. News and World Report discusses how risky hobbies and dangerous “lifestyle” activities that can increase life insurance rates. According to U.S. News, adventurous and thrill-seeking pastimes can cost you more than you think. Some common types of activities that life insurance companies for search for include: motorcycle riding, scuba diving, BASE jumping, hang-gliding, rock climbing, hunting, recreational boating, and international travel to “risky” locations.

Insurance companies are well aware of the groups you’re involved in, the commentary you write on Facebook, the stuff you post on Instagram. If you have a low-value insurance policy, it won’t come up, but if it’s a serious policy that could bring in big numbers, they’ll want more background on you.

Nevertheless, you must always be honest in your application. You might easily think it’s not worth the trouble to tell an insurance company about your love for mountain climbing, and it’s true that it’s probably not smart to volunteer the information. But if you’re asked and lie to an agent or on your application, you’re taking just as much of a risk as the pastime you’re engaged in.

To read the full article, see the U.S. News and World Report – Money Personal Finance website to learn how “How Risky Hobbies Can Raise Your Insurance Rates”.

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Employer Health Care Penalty – When Your Boss Makes You Pay for Being Fat

As they fight rising health-care costs and poor results from voluntary wellness programs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure and thick waistlines. They are also demanding that employees share personal-health information, such as body-mass index, weight and blood-sugar level, or face higher premiums or deductibles.

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Six in 10 employers say they plan to impose penalties in the next few years on employees who don’t take action to improve their health, according to a recent study of 800 mid- to large-size firms by human-resources consultancy Aon Hewitt. A separate study by the National Business Group on Health and Towers Watson found that the share of employers who plan to impose penalties is likely to double to 36% in 2014. (PDF file: NBGH/Aon Hewitt Report: The Employee Health Care Mindset: Views, Behaviors, and Solutions (2010)).

Current law permits companies to use health-related rewards or penalties as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 20% of the cost of the employee’s health coverage. John P. Hancock, a veteran labor and employment attorney at Butzel Long, a Detroit-based law firm, says that while companies can’t legally dock a worker’s pay for a health issue, they can tie an employee’s health-care bill to whether the worker meets or misses health goals. As long as employers offer exemptions for workers with conditions that prevent them from meeting health goals, the firms are in the clear.

For example, employees at at Michelin North America Inc. who have high blood pressure or certain size waistlines may have to pay as much as $1,000 more for health-care coverage starting next year.

Employees at Michelin will be forced to pay the penalty unless they can prove they meet the Michelin’s corporate “healthy standards” for blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and waist size—under 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. Employees who hit baseline requirements in three or more categories will receive up to $1,000 to reduce their annual deductibles. Those who don’t qualify must sign up for a health-coaching program in order to earn a smaller credit.

Employers may argue that tough-love measures, such as punishing workers who evade health screenings, benefit their staff and lower health-care costs. Such steps also portend a murky future in which a chronic condition, such as hypertension, could cost workers jobs or promotions—or prevent them from being hired in the first place.

Employee-rights advocates say the penalties are akin to “legal discrimination.” While companies are calling them wellness incentives, the penalties are essentially salary cuts by a different name, says Lew Maltby, president of Princeton, N.J.-based National Workrights Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group for employee rights in the workplace. “No one ever calls a bad thing what it really is,” he says. “It means millions of people are getting their pay cut for no legitimate reason.”

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Medical Identity Theft Help – How to Detect It, How to Correct It

Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses an individual’s name or other parts of the individual’s identity – such as insurance information or Social Security Number – without the victim’s knowledge or consent to obtain medical services or goods.

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Medical identity theft can also occur when someone uses the person’s identity to obtain money by falsifying claims for medical services and falsifying health records to support those claims. The essence of the crime is the use of a medical identity by a criminal and the lack of knowledge by the victim.

 

Identity theft of medical records can be especially difficult to fix. Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said he expected the number of identity thefts from health care providers to keep rising. Consumers who have suffered medical identity theft need help and support to fix their records.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. “We see hacking as a daily event. It just seems that the ability to protect this information is not easy.” As the protections become more sophisticated, “the hackers get smarter,” he said.

If you think you may be a victim of medical identity theft,  review the following quick tips for detecting and correcting medical identity theft:

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Medical Identity Theft of Health Records Is a Big Problem

Identity theft of health records (commonly referred to as “medical identity theft”) has become big business and a growing problem. Reports of health-record identity thefts jumped 61.5 percent in 2012, federal statistics show. Nationwide, 64,150 data breaches have occurred since October 2009, including 24,429 in 2012 alone, according to the Office for Civil Rights, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Privacy Identity Theft

In a report published in December 2012, the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research firm based in Traverse City, Mich., and ID Experts, data breach consultants in Portland, Ore., estimates that identity theft of health records cost the United States more than $40 billion in 2012, affecting 1.85 million people.

The toll on individuals is high. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. households lost about $13.3 billion because of all kinds of identity theft, including health records, in 2010, the latest statistics available. The average loss per household was about $2,200. Of the 1.8 million complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, 15 percent involved identity theft of all types.

‘Threat is constantly there’

Identity theft of medical records can be especially pernicious. In most cases, thieves use the health data to make financial mischief. More troubling are cases of people being charged for procedures and tests they did not receive and having their medical files filled with the thief’s medical history.

This so-called “medical identity theft” made up 1 percent of all identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2011. But Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group in San Diego, said this is the No. 1 issue the World Privacy Forum deals with, generating hundreds of calls each year from people whose medical files have been corrupted by thieves’ medical information.

“It has led to so much harm,” she said. “Even when there is no [medical] mistreatment, it has caused countless hours of people trying to remove incorrect information from their file. There are serious legal hurdles in removing information from your file even when it’s fraudulent.” That’s because once a medical file includes another person’s medical history, some hospitals argue it can’t be turned over without consent of the impostor.

Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said he expected the number of identity thefts from health care providers to keep rising.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. “We see hacking as a daily event. It just seems that the ability to protect this information is not easy.” As the protections become more sophisticated, “the hackers get smarter,” he said.

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CVS Caremark To Penalize Employees Who Don’t Disclose Weight, Body Fat in Wellness Review

CVS Caremark Corporation has come under fire for asking employees covered under the company’s health care plan to disclose a range of personal information in a “wellness review” — from their weight to blood pressure — or face a financial penalty.  According to company statements, CVS is giving its 200,000 employees an ultimatum: submit your height, weight, body fat percentage (Body Mass Index, aka “BMI”), blood pressure, glucose levels, and other health indicators or suffer an on-going financial penalty of $50 per month.

Not only is CVS Caremark demanding that workers get “wellness reviews” under threat of financial penalty, CVS is also asking workers to give permission to the insurer to turn over that information to a firm that provides benefits support to CVS, the Boston Herald reports. CVS says it will pay for the weight, body fat and blood screenings. But in exchange, workers must sign a form saying the screening is voluntary, and that the insurer can give test results to WebMD Health Services Group (the firm provides health management programs and benefit support to CVS).

An internal CVS document leaked to the press warns that, “[Our CVS Caremark] Colleagues who take action to stay healthy or improve their health, and get results, will be rewarded. Those [CVS Caremark colleagues] who don’t take accountability will have to pay more in the future.” And although the CVS says the medical exams are completely voluntary, anyone who chooses not to weigh in will end up paying an extra $50 per month, or $600 a year more for benefits. And CVS employees don’t have a lot of time to decide what they’ll do; their screening results are due by May 1, 2013.

However, CVS Caremark is far from the only private or public employer one pushing workers to reveal detailed medical information. As health care costs tick up and employers rush to comply with new requirements tied to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, many companies are asking their workers (and in some cases, workers’ spouses) to undergo rigorous health care screenings aimed at encouraging healthier living — and boosting the company’s bottom line.

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