Tag Archives: Levin

Are Patients Ready to Take Control?

In 1980, the actor Steve McQueen traveled to Mexico to receive unorthodox (and ultimately futile) cancer treatment. The widespread coverage that McQueen’s trip received in the mainstream press can, of course, be attributed to his celebrity. But it was also because the actor had taken the reins of his healthcare from the medical establishment, something that was seen as brazen.

Back in those days, we wouldn’t have used the term “consumerization of healthcare” to describe what McQueen did. However, his approach has become an accelerating trend over the past decade, when Americans have taken more control over their health, and the healthcare experience. Consumers are more informed about choice, more demanding about the services being offered and more focused on how they pay for it.

The list of changes is long and growing, focusing on:

  • Wellness
  • Easily accessible online repositories of medical information and advice
  • Medical tourism
  • Physician ratings
  • Walk-in clinics at stores like Walmart and CVS
  • Health spending accounts
  • A proliferation of insurance options

As technology advanced, consumerization was enabled, and, as healthcare costs increase, it’s grown in importance. But the question remains: Do consumers have what it takes to control their health and healthcare as they both consume it and pay for it?

See also: Healthcare Buyers Need Clearer Choices  

What’s driving the consumerization of healthcare?

Thanks to the wealth of information available on the internet (product and service details, pricing info, ratings and reviews), consumers have more control over what they spend their money on, and where and how they spend it. Consumerization began with product shopping but quickly moved into the service sector (financial services, travel services, healthcare).

Whether consumers are covered by group plans in their workplace or by individual plans, they are paying more for their coverage and experiencing higher out-of-pocket costs. A recent Kaiser Foundation study showed that, from 2015 to 2016, deductibles increased by 12% for those covered by employer-sponsored plans. While deductibles have grown more rapidly than premiums – this is, after all, the tradeoff – premiums have still been rising more rapidly than wages. More now than ever, people are more conscious of what they’re spending.

Consumers have become more active

Today, consumers are increasingly relying on technology to manage their health. This trend cuts across generations. Baby boomers were perhaps the first truly “health conscious” cohort. Running, as a popular activity, took off on their watch, as did an interest in (and willingness to spend on) healthier foods. At the same time, boomers are focusing on the health and the healthcare experience of their elderly parents. Boomers are taking advantage of monitoring technology that enables them to keep a remote eye on their parents while helping them remain independent. Then, of course, there’s tremendous interest coming from millennials — digital natives who are used to ubiquitous technology and to shopping around and finding the best deals in all aspects of their lives. Millennials are more likely than boomers and Generation X-ers to own a fitness tracker, search for a physician online and base physician choice on reviews. Millennials are also more likely than other generations to go online and research a medical problem before consulting a physician. Technology, in fact, is bringing about a merger between health and healthcare. When employers are buying Fitbits and sponsoring wellness programs for their workforce, they’re hoping to achieve the dual benefits of healthier employees and more cost-effective healthcare.

There is a growing body of evidence that consumers want more active involvement in their healthcare, and the adoption of digital health tools and applications is a good proxy. For the past several years, Rock Health has surveyed consumers on their use of digital health. In a 2016 report, Rock Health found that 46% of those surveyed have adopted three or more forms of digital health tools. They’re using a fitness tracker, engaging in some form of telemedicine or contacting their physician via email or text message. The survey also found that the majority of Americans would like an electronic version of their healthcare record, and that, in the six months prior to the survey, 20% had requested or downloaded a copy.

Do consumers have the tools and knowledge to manage cost?

Consumers are showing an increasing willingness to take control on the payment end of things. But they may not yet be in a position to do so. Policy Genius, which offers online tools for buying all types of insurance, surveyed consumers on their understanding of some of the basic concepts underlying health insurance. Only 53% picked the right definition of “co-pay.” The term “coinsurance” was understood by just 22%. Roughly half couldn’t define “deductible.” So, while consumers may express a greater desire to take control of their healthcare, they may lack awareness and understanding of how to best utilize their insurance to pay for it.

See also: Consumer-Friendly Healthcare Model  

There’s an app for that

The good news is that technology applications are making consumer control possible. We’ve already seen plenty of apps that help manage so many aspects of health and the healthcare experience: apps for checking symptoms, chatting with a physician, monitoring medications, tracking vitals and even accessing healthcare records. Applications that focus on the cost and payment side of the equation have been slightly slower in arriving to market, but they are coming.
There is an emerging array of insurance-related (insurtech) apps that are making it possible for consumers to gain control of their insurance buying experience, apps that enable them to figure out whether their physicians are part of their network, whether their prescriptions are covered and just what that coinsurance-copay-deductible means to their pocketbook. These insurtech platforms include businesses like GetInsured, which helps individuals purchase the right health insurance plan; apps like Stroll Health, which brings transparency and efficiency to the imaging referral process by delivering personal recommendations based on what is covered by the patient’s insurance plan; and GlucosePath, an app that looks at the 6 million combinations of drugs available to treat Type 2 diabetes to find the regimen that is affordable (based on the patient’s insurance), effective and has the fewest side effects.

Given that Steve McQueen was famous and wealthy, he probably wasn’t worried about the cost or payment side of his treatment. But taking control of his own healthcare the way he did may have helped spark a major consumer trend. Today, consumers continue to push for active control in their health and in how they consume and pay for their healthcare. And, through technology, the healthcare industry is inexorably delivering solutions to fill any gaps that keep consumers from exercising even more control.

How to Avoid Summer Scams

As the weather gets warmer, mosquitos and ticks re-enter our lives, and along with them comes their larger cousin, the scam artist. There are ways to prepare for those seasonal meal stealers. The same goes for scams, as knowledge is the best repellent.

Either way, some scams never seem to get old, as evidenced by the huge number of people that continue to fall for them no matter how many warnings we issue. There are always new variations that snare even the wariest consumers.Ticks and mosquitos aren’t harmless—they are well-known vectors for serious illnesses. Scam artists also are vectors for a plague that affects millions of people each year: identity theft. But sometimes a scam is of the simpler smash-and-grab variety.

With that, I give you this summer’s smorgasbord of scams.

1. The summer rental scam

It’s not the easiest thing to find a summer rental that has all the right elements: a reasonable distance from the beach, the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a pets welcome policy. So, when you do find the right one, the tendency for most people is to pounce. Don’t be most people. If you get scammed on a rental, you’re not going to know till you show up at the front door and a puzzled person peers back at you.

The best thing you can do is visit the property in question beforehand. If you are working with a real estate agent, ask for his or her license number and check it, request references if there are no reviews online, and confirm that the address is real and the premises are truly available for rent.

See also: Be on the Lookout for Tax Scams  

2. Summer job as credit application

It is sadly a common occurrence that when kids are offered a “job,” they provide their information for tax purposes, including their Social Security number, and then never hear back. The reason: The only “job” was a robbery. Their identity is stolen, and because kids will be kids, it often takes a long time for them to realize the jerk who flaked on a summer job offer gutted their creditworthiness. (Here are four ways identity theft can impact your credit.)

Never provide sensitive personal information to a job site or anyone claiming to offer a job at the start of the process. Before you show up for an interview, make sure the job is legit: You can figure this out by doing an online search or making a few phone calls.

3. Door-knocker scams

Summer is the time for door-knocking scams. Sometimes the knocker wants you to help save an endangered species or an embattled population far away, sometimes they are selling a lawn service, home maintenance or sustainably produced electricity—all these causes, services and products may be legitimate, but the person offering them … not so much.

If a stranger comes to your door, your level of suspicion should be high from a personal and digital security perspective. If you like what a knocker has to say, tell them that you will go online to help their cause or buy a product, and send them on their way.

4. Wi-Fi scams

This is a year-round thing, but people still get got all the time by phony Wi-Fi scams, and the problem is only getting worse now that more municipalities are offering free access to the internet. The problem is that free Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee secure Wi-Fi.

Always check with the network provider or someone of authority before logging on to any new wireless connection. Use a VPN, or virtual private network, to conduct any transactions that involve sensitive information.

5. Front desk, fake menu scams

Hotel scams are many and various, and it’s best just to remember that you are a target whenever you are traveling, but there are two scams that are sufficiently common. The first is the front desk scam, which is pretty simple.

You check in late, you’re tired and your phone rings. The scammer doesn’t know when you checked in. He or she is calling random rooms. You are told there is a problem with your credit card. Can you please confirm the number? The second scam to look out for is the menu scam. Scammers produce fake ones, and then steal your credit card information when you call to place an order.

If you get a call from the front desk, hang up and call back or go in person to confirm your payment method. Use your smartphone to order food or call the front desk for suggestions.

6. Moving scams

Summertime is moving time. Just make sure your relocation isn’t a moving experience of the hair-pulling kind. While there are many great services out there, there also are some fraudulent ones that could wind up costing you big time.

With online services like Task Rabbit and Angie’s List to name but two, there are ways to choose a moving service that suits your needs and provides reviews. Just make sure you check out their reputation online before they show up at your door.

You may have identity theft repellent

If you think you might have been a victim of identity theft, it’s important to monitor your credit for anything out of the ordinary—primarily accounts and delinquencies you don’t recognize. You can get a copy of each of your three major credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com and you can use a free tool like Credit.com’s credit report card to check for signs of identity theft every month.

It’s also a good idea to check with your insurance agent, bank, credit union or the HR department where you work. It is increasingly more common as a perk of your relationship with the institution to be offered free access to a program that provides education, proactive assistance and damage control if you become a victim of identity theft.

See also: Are Scams Killing Direct Marketing?  

If it’s not free, you may be able to get it at a minimal cost. (Full disclosure: CyberScout, a company I founded in 2003, provides these services to institutional clients, and they in turn offer the service to their clients, customers, members or employees.)

This post originally appeared on ThirdCertainty.

Full disclosure: CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty. This story originated as an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Is It Time to Buy a Biometric Scanner?

Identity theft is still out there, keeping pace with the latest innovations and security measures and snaring new victims every day. With the advent of cheaper, standalone, easy-to-integrate biometric technology for authentication, is it time to buy a fingerprint scanner?

What’s a biometric scanner?

Biometric technology uses physical or biological information, like a fingerprint, retinal scan or heartbeat, to authenticate a person’s identity. You can currently purchase the most commonplace biometric scanner—that is, one that uses a fingerprint—starting at around $50. The scanner can be used to protect computers and other devices that support biometric scanning technology.

Do biometrics provide additional security?

The short answer: Yes.

Authentication can effectively use three things to keep the wrong people out: something you know, something you have and something you are. We’re all familiar with the first line of defense. “What you know” takes the form of security questions, passwords and a security picture, and there are various strategies to keep it all straight.

Some choose to use password managers or proprietary systems like Apple’s iCloud Keychain. Others prefer to have an encrypted personal security list (logins, passwords) stored on a cloud server. Still others put “what they know” (but couldn’t possibly remember) on a USB stored on a keychain or in a safe if the information is not encrypted. And, yes, some go a little further, choosing to use a fingerprint-encrypted drive (i.e., biometrics). How you manage what you know comes down to personal preference, but the first line of defense is not fail-safe. In fact, there are hacks and breaches all the time. (If you believe you were the victim of a hack, you can view two of your free credit scores on Credit.com for signs of identity theft.)

See also: Are Passwords Finally Becoming Passé?  

The second line of defense, “something you have,” could be access to an email account, a key fob or your mobile phone. You need to have your phone in hand, for instance, to receive the verification code so you can get waved through some digital security checks. This is called two-factor authentication—and, yes, it’s more secure than simply protecting accounts with an alphanumerical password.

The last line of defense, “something you are,” is a really hot topic right now. As I mentioned earlier, in sophisticated systems, this might include a scan of your retina, your finger- or handprints, your body weight (including ups and downs), your height, your face or all of the above. This information is clearly specific to you—and not so easily replicated—so, again, it’s miles more secure that the old standard password or even two-factor authentication.

Needless to say, were you to implement a security protocol that combined all three of the above protocols of authentication, a) criminals would have a really hard time making any money, but b) we would all be frustrated.

Does it have a place in the home?

Biometric authenticators have been the security mode for quite some time in the military and wherever large amounts of money or gold or drugs or weapons are stored, as seen in countless spy and heist movies, but they are slowly making their way into people’s homes.

From smartphones to gun lockers to personal computers, a steady march of devices is offering a biometric element for the user-authentication process. One example comes by way of a new secure credit card being tested by MasterCard in a chain of supermarkets in South Africa. The card is able to store an encrypted copy of the user’s fingerprint, which would make it exceedingly difficult for a scammer to beat.

(Would it be impossible to beat? As with all great capers, only the crooks know for sure. There was a flurry of coverage not too long ago about how photos of people flashing a peace sign could lead to the theft of their fingerprints, thanks to the proliferation of high-definition cameras. But fact-checking website Snopes listed the story as “Unproven,” and for good reason. While it is theoretically possible, no criminals have been caught doing it.)

Should I buy a fingerprint scanner?

Here’s the rub: You won’t really need to.

Unless you were born a long time ago, you may not know what an 8-track is. It came before the cassette tape, which preceded the CD, which is the grandfather of the MP3. When you want to make a point about obsolescence, there are few better examples than those clunky old tapes. I bring them up because current standalone biometric scanners are without a doubt the 8-track of digital security devices.

See also: Biometrics and Fraud Prevention: Seeing Eye to Eye  

If you accept the similarity between biometric scanning devices and MP3 players, the answer to the question above will be crystal clear. These days, MP3s can be played by all the devices we use most. We’re seeing the same thing happen with biometric scanning.

Whether it’s a smartphone, a computer or MasterCard’s new fingerprint-encrypted cards, all stripes of products you use on a daily basis eventually will feature built-in biometric scanners. And, if you are buying something today and prefer devices with built-in (rather than bolt-on) security, don’t despair. There already are plenty of choices out there. Case in point: Anyone with the latest generation of a particular smartphone likely has the option of locking and unlocking the device with their thumb.

Personally, unless and until all devices that should be secure feature biometric scanners, I would suggest opting for those that do—much in the same way I’d advise you to refrain from using “1234” as your password. You can learn more about biometric technology, how it works (and whether it can be hacked) here.

Full disclosure: CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty. This story originated as an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

This post originally appeared on ThirdCertainty.

Healthcare Buyers Need Clearer Choices

Over the past decade, many industries have made tremendous progress when it comes to offering consumer choice. Just look at the travel industry. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t possible to search for a flight, compare dozens of different options side-by-side and tailor your selection to match your specific needs. Shopping experiences across many categories are now offering choices — and making those choices clear. The healthcare industry, however, is lagging behind. And when it comes to something as critical as healthcare, clear choices are imperative. Consumers who make a less-than-optimum insurance choice face higher costs, less satisfaction and poorer health when an issue that should be looked after gets ignored because it’s not covered.

These Six Factors Make Clear Choices Imperative for Health Insurance Shoppers

1. Cost

When most individuals shop for a new plan, it’s not just a matter of going with the option that comes with the lowest monthly premium. There’s always a juggling act between the monthly premium and out-of-pocket costs. If the co-pays and deductibles are too high, if there are services that individuals use that aren’t covered, the lowest-cost plan may well end up costing the consumer more. Consumers need to understand their total cost of healthcare with any given plan.

See also: Key Misconceptions on Health Insurance  

2. What’s Covered

After the basics, individuals may have a wide range of services for which they seek coverage, and every healthcare consumer will have different needs. One individual may require mental health services, another physical therapy. For yet another, it’s audiology services. Even if a certain service is covered at some level, there will likely be different limits (e.g., the number of physical therapy sessions allowed) from one plan to the next. While it’s not possible for individuals to anticipate everything that they might need in a year, consumers should be experts in their current requirements.

3. Prescription Drug Coverage

Formularies listing the prescription drugs covered under each insurance plan can be extensive. And when they’re on paper, they can be very difficult to navigate. However, consumers are quickly learning the importance of determining whether the drugs they take are covered by their health insurance plans. Given last year’s unexpected cost increases for the EpiPen, consumers are wising up. Looking through the formulary and not finding an expensive drug they need to take regularly may knock a plan out of consideration.

4. Provider Network

Whether a healthcare provider is in-network is a big deal to consumers. In fact, when it comes to choosing a physician, it may be the biggest deal. A 2015 survey of more than a thousand patients showed that 90% of consumers reported that the most important attribute of a physician is whether they accept the individual’s health insurance – more important even than the physician’s clinical experience. Consumers need to know what happens when they see a physician or other provider, or use a hospital, that’s outside of their network: The costs may be untenable. Consumers might be okay with switching from a primary care physician to someone new if they only see them once a year for a regular physical. But if they’ve developed a close relationship with their pediatrician – someone they like and trust – they’ll want to make sure that their provider is in-network.

5. Unique Elements

Consumers are taking more ownership of their own healthcare. These days, when shopping for health insurance, they are now factoring in all of the details that make them unique. For example, if their kids play sports, they’re thinking about ER visits. When they’re planning an addition to the family, they’re doing research to see if the facility where they want to have their baby is covered by their health plan. There are many unique elements that require choice. Health insurance is not a one-size fits all solution.

6. Overall Risk Aversion

When it comes to choosing a health insurance plan, risk aversion is really about what level of financial risk an individual is able to accept. And, in this regard, every individual is different. The lower-cost premium plan might be fine if there’s a low probability of something occurring that is not covered. But if you’re likely to be making frequent ER trips with your kids, that low-premium plan may not be so attractive. It’s up to the individual to determine how risk-averse they are.

Insurance customers are desperate for clear choices that are easy to understand. They need them because everyone is unique and living a different situation. And, given the wide range of choices that are available to consumers in so many other aspects of their lives, they expect options. Choices provide an opportunity for your customers to find the best-fitting health insurance plan. Are you offering enough choices?

See also: The Basic Problem for Health Insurance  

Clearly presenting the information that today’s healthcare consumers require can be overwhelming. After all, carriers are experts in insurance, not in software application development and data presentation. Fortunately, in the 21st century, data is highly digestible, usable and transparent. Health insurtech companies across the nation are making sure of that. As insurance carriers and health insurtech companies work together, slowly but surely, the industry will progress, offering more clearly defined choices for today’s consumers.

Can Trump Make ‘the Cyber’ Secure?

I have to admit that when now-President Donald Trump uttered the phrase “The Cyber” during the first presidential debate, I was right there with the tech community in the eye-rolling that followed. “The Cyber” memes were born, along with real concern about the then-candidate’s grasp on cybersecurity, and, with the announcement of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the cyber czar, those concerns multiplied.

The seeming “misunderestimation” — or possibly anti-comprehension — regarding something so crucial to national security may not on the surface seem like a consumer issue, but it is.

Our nation’s approach to cybersecurity at this juncture — beset by hostile state-sponsored attacks on our electoral process; expertise and secret information grabs from major industries and the federal government; and ransomware attacks — is a matter of the utmost urgency, and the now-president has said as much, to his credit.

But Trump’s response can’t be just a marketing move or a branding opportunity — things he gets. There must not be merely the appearance of change, with commissions talking and debating endlessly but with little to show for it. There must be actual boots-on-the-ground solutions — now.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what will happen.

Consumer protection at risk

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau specifically comes to mind if Trump does as many are predicting he will do and makes it yet another piece of President Obama’s dismantled legacy.

The CFPB was an important accomplishment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The agency is charged with protecting consumers from the predatory financial practices that brought about the economic meltdown of 2007-08 and watching out for signs of future trouble. The CFPB has the power to ban financial products deemed “deceptive, unfair or abusive” and to impose penalties on companies that take advantage of consumers.

Barring a judicial miracle, current CFPB Director Richard Cordray is almost certainly going to receive one of Trump’s signature “you’re fired” communiqués. Worse, an anti-CFPB former Texas representative, Randy Neugebauer, appears to be the leading candidate to get the job.

See also: Election Elevates Cyber Issues for 2017  

Among other things, Neugebauer thinks that payday lenders are too roughly treated by the CFPB and that all business contracts should contain mandatory arbitration clauses (barring class action suits). He also thinks the CFPB should be headed not by a single director, but by a commission of people from both sides of the aisle. Those of us who support the CFPB believe that this would diminish the agency’s ability to go after dangerous practices that harm consumers in a timely and effective way.

The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment regarding its plans for the CFPB or Cordray.

This is about appointing the right people

It was reported that the cybersecurity czar role in the Trump administration will fall to the president’s close associate and campaign stalwart: Giuliani.

There is a connection here between what appears to be afoot at the CFPB and the next administration’s approach to cybersecurity. Both represent bad decisions based on a basic incomprehension of what is at stake and of what needs to happen next. The CFPB works — specifically, the single-director approach. Instead of hiring an opponent of the agency to presumably dismantle it, we should be using it as a model to create a single-director federal agency that emulates the CFPB to oversee cybersecurity.

As it stands, Giuliani will be bringing together experts working on cybersecurity solutions and business leaders who are targeted by hackers from the energy, financial and transportation sectors. The next step that is missing here is a government agency that can fine entities that do not meet the threshold for cybersecurity best practices — mandated employee education, maintaining technology and tools, hiring experts — that the agency would determine and set as a standard. (You can learn more about how to protect yourself from cyber threats like identity theft here and can monitor two of your free credit scores for signs of foul play every 14 days on Credit.com.)

In a recent interview, Giuliani said of the Trump, “He’s going to elevate this to a very large priority for the government — and I think, by doing this, he’s trying to elevate this as a priority for the private sector.”

Depending on private sector

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Passcode noted, quoting the former NYC mayor, the idea here is pretty simple: Trump will go straight to the public to “educate people on how important (cybersecurity) is, even to the point of their own personal protection.”

That is a fantastic idea that everyone should applaud. Whether the user is in the Pentagon or logging onto a free Wi-Fi network, our cybersecurity too often comes down to an individual clicking or not clicking on a malware-laden link or falling prey to some other security pratfall.

That said, any agency dedicated to cybersecurity would need to work closely with the military and intelligence communities and would also have to focus its resources on real solutions to the dangers we face, many of them extinction-level threats. The person running it would have to be at the cutting edge of cybersecurity best practices.

See also: Insurance Industry Can Solve Cyber  

When the news came down of Giuliani’s cyber czar role, experts almost immediately hit Twitter with reasons why this was a bad idea. (Trump’s team also didn’t respond to requests for comment regarding this choice. Giuliani was not readily available for comment, either.) As it happens, the cybersecurity community took a look at the website of Giuiliani’s cybersecurity company, giulianisecurity.com. They found serious problems, including expired SSL, no https and an exposed CMS login — just to name a few. You don’t need to know what these things are, but the cyber czar sure does. There can be no “oops” in his or her record.

Full disclosure: CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty. This story originated as an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

This article originally appeared on ThirdCertainty.