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Your Medical Records May Not Be as Private as You Think

A Maryland man wrote to the Consumer Protection Division after receiving a copy of his Medical Information Bureau report. He had been treated for excess alcohol use years earlier and was surprised to see that MIB had this information in its file. In addition, the report erroneously noted that he had used drugs and had an abnormal EKG reading, all of which could make it difficult or expensive for him to purchase life or health insurance.

You are probably aware that credit reporting agencies keep track of your credit history and report it to potential creditors who request the information. You may not know, however, that medical information about you may be on file in much the same way. The Medical Information Bureau in Massachusetts compiles information relating to the medical history and lifestyle of people who have conditions or participate in activities (such as sky diving) that may affect longevity. The non-profit bureau is financed and run by the insurance industry. It's mission is to help life and health insurance companies detect fraudulent applications.

Not everyone is on file at MIB. The company says it keeps reports only if a person has a serious medical condition or other factors that might affect longevity, such as a bad driving record or participation in a hazardous sport. The information is coded and stored by computer. MIB says it purges records that are more than 7 years old.

When you apply for insurance, you most likely will be asked to sign a release form, giving the insurance company permission to access all medical and non-medical information about you. The release also gives permission for the information to be released to MIB.

Before deciding if you are insurable, an insurance company will check with MIB to determine if there is a report about you in MIB's files. If so, they will compare the information in that report to the information in your application.

If the insurance company discovers, either from your application or from your medical files, that you have a condition significant to health or longevity, MIB requires them to report it. The agency can then keep it on file to share with other insurance companies who request information about you.

MIB's rules forbid an insurer from denying insurance based solely on an MIB report. The insurer is supposed to independently verify the information in the MIB report, but there is no means of assuring that this is done.

The Consumer's Rights

Until recently, it was possible for you to be denied insurance, or to be charged higher rates, without ever knowing an MIB report was involved. But last year, MIB agreed it was regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and required its member insurance companies to abide by that law. That means if an MIB report plays any part in an insurer's decision to deny coverage or to charge a higher rate for insurance, the insurance company must notify you of this fact, and provide MIB's name and address. You can then request a free copy of that MIB report within 30 days of being notified by the insurance company.

If you disagree with the information, you can dispute it. When MIB receives notice of your dispute, Maryland law requires that it reinvestigate the information in question and record the current status within 30 days. However, the re-investigation does not ensure that faulty information will be removed from your file.

If the reinvestigation does not resolve your dispute, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Maryland law permit you to file a brief statement with MIB, which must be included in your report each time it is sent out.

Even if you have not been denied insurance, you can get a copy of information MIB has on file about you by writing MIB at PO Box 105, Essex Station, Boston, MA 02112, or calling 617-426-3660. MIB will send the necessary forms. Under Maryland law, Maryland residents are entitled to one free copy of their MIB report within a 12-month period. Subsequent reports can cost no more than $5.

If you are planning to apply for insurance, you should check first to see if you have an MIB report so you won't receive any surprises later on. If you have any trouble obtaining a free copy of your report, you can contact the Maryland Commissioner of Consumer Credit at (410) 333-6330.

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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