Can Social Media Hike Up Your Insurance?

It’s no secret that health care providers and insurers want to know as much about you as possible before offering you a policy, but does that include what you post on Facebook and Twitter? Apparently it does, and one analyst is out with a new set of rules to live by for social networking users who want to catch a break on their insurance rates.

The idea behind the theory stems from a paper written by Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Altimeter Group. In it, Owyang hints that it’s not a good idea to tweet about that trip to the hospital, or post a picture of your car accident on Facebook.

“Just as companies use previous purchasing behavior, demographics, psychographics and other studies, we expect companies to take advantage of the social data that customers are providing to the public, in order to make better decisions,” he writes.

For specifics, the author cites the example of a Canadian woman who applied for medical disability but was rejected after insurance company risk analysts found a photo of the woman on Facebook cavorting at a beach. Or, if an insurance company catches you posting a photo online from the driver’s seat of your car, that could trigger a rate hike from your auto insurer.

But online signs that you’re living healthy could mean a reduction in rates. Owyang cites the example of runners updating their miles on a Nike runner’s app or a tweet from a health food store could get you some “wellness points” from an insurer.

Geography apparently carries a great deal of weight, as that Canadian woman found. Owyang says that insurers could slap a 10% rate hike on life insurance or auto insurance customers if they post photos or tweets from bars three or four times per week (a sign of “binge drinking” to insurers, Owyang asserts).

Down the road, Owyang anticipates more rewards for good behavior rather than penalties for bad behavior. “I would expect health and insurance companies to offer an opt-in method for existing wellness programs to be extended to tools like online education courses, participating in wellness programs with peers or allowing members to submit location based check-ins to the gym, healthy eating, and other pro-health activities,” he writes. “We should expect that a forward-thinking insurance or wellness company offers an online incentive-based program to encourage members to connect to each other, become more educated, and live a healthy lifestyle.”

For now, social networking posters may want to rein in any objectionable tweets or photos that could come back to haunt them, or at least their insurance rate.

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