Can insurers use social media monitoring to set health premiums? 4 things to know

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Some insurers have begun monitoring customers' lifestyles to personalize pricing, according to Reuters.

Here's what you need to know:

1. London-based health and life insurance company Vitality monitors customers' overall health based on factors like blood pressure, exercise and self-reported happiness. These customers receive incentives, like premium reductions, based on healthy choices they make — which are tracked through purchases and wearable devices.

2. Zurich, Switzerland-based reinsurance company Swiss Re has invested in, a startup that encourages consumers to provide personal data — for example, from social media channels — to receive individualized deals from various businesses.

3. Social media monitoring does not play a role in Swiss Re's overall business model because, according to Reuters, the company would need ethical checks to ensure consent. However, research has suggested that positive tweets are associated with health outcomes, like a reduced risk of heart disease, suggesting this analysis might one day take on a larger role in insurance programs.

4. Critics of these personalized programs argue that they not only have the potential to infringe on customers' privacy, but that individualized pricing undermines the risk-sharing principle of insurance. These critics worry that personalized premiums may lead to significant rate hikes, or even coverage denial, for some customers.

"In a relatively short period of time, maybe a few years, most of the major insurers will have integrated lessons from behavioral research," Daniel Ryan, head of digital analytics catalysts for Swiss Re, told Reuters. "Undoubtedly, it will lead to a different interaction between insurer and policyholders."

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