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”.)

In response to Mr. Sager’s comments, Mr. Winston published the following open letter, calling on the Medical Information Bureau to engage in a public conversation that provides basic transparency to American consumers. Specifically, Mr. Winston urged Mr. Sager to share more about: (1) which of the largest insurance companies are exchanging personal information; and (2) what types of personal information is currently being collected and tracked?

Open Letter to Jonathan W. Sager, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, MIB Group Inc.

Jonathan – Thanks for your response to the article, “How Insurance Companies Predict When You’ll Die.” It’s rare for a senior-level executive and head lawyer for one of North America’s largest consumer reporting bureaus to venture into the comments section to continue a dialogue about the history of his company’s information collection practices. So, I applaud your efforts to start a public conversation about the Medical Information Bureau Inc.’s (MIB) data exchange programs.

The feedback from the article has been overwhelmingly positive and insurance policyholders are eager for more information. Here are the two most frequent questions that insurance customers are asking, for which MIB has not yet provided a clear explanation: (1) Who are the 450 insurance companies that currently subscribe to the MIB? and (2) What medical and personal “impairments” does MIB currently track.

MIB’s reach in the insurance industry is unparalleled. At one point, the FTC estimated that, “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.” Yet, it’s extremely difficult for any consumer to decipher how insurance companies are collecting and sharing her personal information.

The Congressional testimony of Joseph C. Wilberding, MIB’s Executive Director and General Counsel, is a matter of public record. On October 3, 1973, Mr. Wilberding appeared before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, Subcommittee for Consumer Credit in Washington, D.C. Under questioning by Senator William Proxmire, Mr. Wilberding testified that, “the individual consumer files collected and exchanged by MIB, ‘included data on sexual deviation, drug addiction, and alcoholism.’” (For more, see “AnnualMedicalReport.com Verifies Congressional Testimony of Medical Information Bureau Executive”)

In a lengthy newspaper interview, Mr. Wilberding further explained that MIB’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 MIB did not independently verify whether the personal information it collected and sold was accurate or truthful.

Under intense public and regulatory scrutiny in 1974, the MIB claimed to end its practice of collecting information about “sexual deviation” and “social maladjustments.” In 1975, Joseph C. Wilberding, the MIB Executive Director, stated that “the Bureau had voluntarily eliminated these categories from its “impairment” category. Instead, it substituted two new categories that would alert an inquiring company of the “existence” of such information. ‘All that is reported now,’ Mr. Wilberding explained, ‘is that company X thinks they got significant information from an unidentified investigative report. They are not reporting information, but they are reporting the possible existence of information that must be further checked out.’ This left many critics unimpressed.” [emphasis added.]

In the interests of accountability to insurance customers, will the MIB release the full list of medical and personal impairments that it currently records? (Not the codes, Mr. Sager, just the current list of impairments?) Stripped of the alphanumeric codes, MIB’s “Official List of Impairments” is not a trade secret and it’s not confidential. In MIB’s own words, this ‘list of impairments’ is used to assess “the vast majority” of life insurance customers and policyholders in the United States. I think that Americans deserve fair treatment upfront to know how insurance companies are judging and pricing their applications.

The MIB is a “nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency” because “MIB reports bear on consumers’ personal characteristics, and they are used in whole or part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing consumers’ eligibility for insurance.” (FTC Consent Order, “In the Matter of MIB, Inc.”, March 21, 1983). Federal and state laws provide consumers the right to request their free annual file disclosures from the MIB. All consumers may submit their free annual report request to MIB by mail at “MIB, Inc., 50 Braintree Hill Park – Suite 400, Braintree, MA 02184”; by toll-free telephone number at 1-866-692-6901; or online at www.MIB.com.

Again, Jonathan, I applaud your efforts to join the public conversation about the Medical Information Bureau Inc.’s (MIB) history of collecting sensitive and personal information. In the interests of transparency and accountability for consumers, I hope the MIB seizes this occasion to elaborate on its current data collection and exchange practices.

JOEL S. WINSTON, ESQ. GENERAL COUNSEL, AnnualMedicalReport.com, twitter.com/MedicalReport.

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