How Life Insurance Companies May Use Your Health Against You


Most people do not truly value their health until they get sick or injured. Or, try to apply for life insurance coverage. There is a reason most life insurance companies require a medical physical during the application process. Just like many of you, I have had to endure filling out the health questions on a life insurance questionnaire. Life insurance actuaries analyze data about applicants, their health, and lifespan expectations, to assess risk.

That is why your propensity for smoking, bad eating habits, engaging in risky recreational activities, or genetic disposition for heart disease are determining factors for approval. Actuaries have to analyze and process unimaginable amounts of information to determine who to approve and reject. Yes, big data is the cash cow key for most life insurance companies.

Too Much Information

Well, it probably used to be. It seems that at the dawn of the internet and the information age, there can be such a thing as too much information. Almost 80% of life insurance companies are unable to access the information they collect in a timely manner for processing. There is just too much of it. Its also a major reason why life insurance companies are currently investing in progressive AI technologies to help process their data, especially health-related data, much faster.

Whether or not this will be a good or bad thing remains to be seen. Many experts believe that insurance companies will be better able to quickly and efficiently analyze data to an applicant’s benefit. Or, to better invade our privacy to better identify and exclude unhealthy, non-exercising people from the application process.

The John Hancock Vitality Life Program

Life insurance companies using detailed, AI-analyzing health information to assess applicants is not a future possibility. It is actively happening now. John Hancock, a 156-year old American life insurance institution, announced in 2018 that the company will only sell interactive life insurance policies that continuously tracks the health and fitness routine of the policyholder.

The programs, known as Vitality Go and Vitality Plus, have existed since 2015 but were publicly trumpeted only last year. Policy holders need to wear health data storing devices, like a FitBit, which keeps track of exercise routines and overall health, regularly. This information is then regularly shared with John Hancock. Policyholders receive discounts and gift card incentives for participating in the program.

Future Consequences

Any policyholder or applicant can opt out of participating in the program. But for how long? How long before such a practice becomes the norm? At the dawn of the 20th century, most people didn’t get medical physicals. Most people only got a physical to qualify for health insurance by mid-century.

Will insurance companies weaponize such data to leverage medical professionals and everyday people to conform to a version of healthiness that ensures less application risk? Are applicants who never exercise at risk of being banned from applying for life insurance? Could such information be used to create a genetic database to determine who qualifies for health insurance, and who doesn’t, even before birth?

We are nowhere near such a future now. Yet, AI-enabled fintech and wearable health data tracking devices can now determine your worthiness for health insurance. There is no reason not to exercise and stay healthy. Yet, it is also a stretch to believe that such policy developments benefit you and I more than life insurance companies.

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