Just like credit Bureaus, health insurance companies collect and share information on you—in this case, your medical data. Your file is kept by an industry organization called MIB (formerly known as the Medical Information Bureau). "Think of them as a credit reporting agency for healthcare," says Joy Pritts, founding director of the Center of Medical Record Rights and Privacy at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. The similarity doesn't end there: If you're seeking an individual policy, your file could influence the cost of your premium—or whether you can even get insurance.
Your MIB report is essentially a "medical résumé," says MIB executive vice president Robert DiAngelo. Health issues that might be on your report include obesity, high blood pressure, ulcers, and diabetes, says Frances Georgianna, vice president and chief marketing officer at MIB. Activities that insurance companies deem hazardous, like skydiving or smoking, may also be noted, along with your driving record and any history of criminal activity.
Thankfully, the file contains only information you've shared with insurers—not your actual medical records. The MIB database exists to detect fraud on an insurance application, says DiAngelo. For instance, if you're applying for a life insurance policy and your MIB file indicates a history of high blood pressure that isn't on your application, the insurance company could ask you to submit to further testing. Problems arise when there's erroneous information in your file due to mistaken reporting by an insurer or someone using your identity to gain coverage.
If you're applying for individual health, life, long-term, or disability coverage, you should check your MIB file to make sure nothing's awry. (If you get group coverage through, say, an employer, the insurer can't check your MIB report.) The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act grants you the right to a free copy (call 866-692-6901 to order) and to dispute any errors you find. You'll also receive a list of the companies that have reported information on you and those that have accessed your file during the previous 12 months. Information in the database is purged after seven years, so if it's been longer than that since you applied for an individual insurance policy, you won't have a report on file.