Privacy Calculator – Question 3

Is your employer self-insured?


If you answered yes, your privacy is at a higher risk. While there are some limits, many self insured employers believe that they “own” your health information since they pay for it. All self-insured employers have some rights to access your medical records. Some employers are sensitive to the vulnerability of the records and they do not access employee records. However, many employers receive detailed reports of “de-identified data” on their employees which can easily be re-identified.

It is practically impossible to ensure that anonymous/de-identified/aggregate data cannot be re-identified; far too much information exists and is accessible now to the average person. Dr. Latanya Sweeney showed she can re-identify 87% of the population with just gender, month and date of birth and zip code.

Data is either useful or anonymous, but never both.  Data may seem anonymous but when coupled with another set of data, the merged data set can often reveal identity. Consider data an employer or insurer already has on you, overlapped with “anonymous” data such as age, location, gender and dates of absence for a report on those who searched for “cancer testing.” If employers and insurers want to identify sick or expensive people, they can.

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If your employer is not self-insured or has no involvement in your health insurance, your risk is very low.

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What is a “self-insured employer”?
A self-insured employer does not contract with an insurance company to insure their employees. Instead they have enough employees to do their own risk pooling like an insurance company would. These employers are called “Self-Insured.” During the past couple of decades, the number of employers who have become self-insured has increased dramatically, starting with large employers and spreading to those with fewer employees. Some examples of self-insured employers are: Walmart, Microsoft and IBM.