State Moves Towards Self-Insurance, The Business Of Selling Your Medical Data, Naming Perscription Drugs, Proposed Fines For Sanctuary Cities

Air Date:
Heard On Central Time

Wisconsin’s Group Insurance Board voted to make a switch to self-insurance for state and local government employees. An expert tells us what that could mean for public sector employees and the state overall. Do you ever wonder how prescription drugs get their unique names? Our guest explains the complicated, often mysterious process behind naming new medicines. We also discuss how companies make billions of dollars by selling our medical records. Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) explains her bill aimed to compel Wisconsin municipalities to comply with federal immigration laws.

Featured in this Show

  • Wisconsin Moves Towards Self-Insurance For State Employees

    Wisconsin’s Group Insurance board voted to make a switch to self-insurance for state and local government employees on Tuesday. It would mean that instead of buying insurance from HMOs Wisconsin would pay medical benefits directly to about 250,000 state and local government employees and their dependents. An expert tells us why the move has been heavily debated over the last few years, and what its impact could be.

  • How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Data

    The one place one tends to think is private, is the doctor’s office. But, every bit of medical data one gives a provider is recorded and, according to a quantitative scientist, companies make billions of dollars off selling this data.

  • Drug Or Fictional Planet? How New Prescription Drugs Are Named

    Do you ever wonder how pharmaceutical companies come up with drug names like, Zocor or Cymbalta? We talk to an expert who lets us in on the complicated, and often mysterious process of naming new prescription drugs.

  • How Our Medical Data Gets Sold And Used

    Our bodies are deeply personal. Our bodies are sometimes healthy and well. At other times they can be weird, hurt or do embarrassing things. It’s part of the reason why doctor-patient confidentiality is such a cherished – and needed – part of the medical field. But there’s a booming market — in the billions of dollars — for the anonymous data gathered on ourselves in the doctor’s office.

    Adam Tanner, author of “Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records,” said it’s easier than ever for companies to gather and aggregate such information.

    “With the digitization of medical records has come the ability to spread this information elsewhere,” he said.

    Tanner said this isn’t always a bad thing. The ability to quickly and digitally send records to other doctors, or write a prescription and send it a pharmacy instantly can make lives easier and more efficient. But he warns it’s in these moments that data is collected.

    “What is happening now is that many of these entities are selling this information about us to commercial data miners for use that’s not related to your medical care,” he said.

    The information sent by these digital companies doesn’t have your name on it, which makes them mostly anonymous. But they do contain other pieces of data important to these companies, such as birthdate, gender and the area of town you live.

    Over time, Tanner said these companies are able to create a medical dossier about you which can be used in a variety of ways, such as selling medications to doctor’s offices by pharmaceutical companies.

    While individual pieces of data about you are technically anonymous — or “anonymized,” as Tanner said in the book — it doesn’t mean the data can’t ultimately be tied back to an individual.

    “If you add many pieces of information about you over time, it’s increasingly at risk of being reidentified,” Tanner said. “So it may be your doctor’s office visit three years ago. And then it was a blood test that you had a year ago. And then some prescriptions you had this year and other information.

    “If you add different pieces of information, such as different cities where you may have had medical care, then it becomes ever easier.”

    Among the concerns Tanner has over the collection of medical data is that it could undermine people’s trust in the medical profession. He said if people are worried their sensitive information could become known to people outside the doctor’s visit, they might be less inclined to share necessary information with their doctor.

    But he’s also worried this data could lead to discrimination against the patients.

    “For example, employers might be interested in this information,” Tanner said. “Very expensive employees who cost them a lot through health insurance costs might be worth getting rid of, even though that is not allowed.”

    He also points to businesses such as life insurance companies, which could use the information to deny coverage. But beyond that, he points to individuals who might be able to get their hands on this information to embarrass the patient.

    “All sorts of people can use this information for bad,” Tanner said. “And that’s something that we should be concerned about. Especially to the future, as such reidentifications and use of this data become more possible.”

    One of the big arguments for the collection of this data is that it could be used by scientists to help figure out correlations between certain habits and diseases, which could potentially lead to better treatments.

    But Tanner said while this argument is out there, there hasn’t been an example so far that shows researchers have been able to make a big breakthrough with data available.

    But, he said he does believe the conversation many people should be having is about the say they should have in how the data is used.

    “Right now, if it’s anonymized data about us, if our name is removed, we have no say — in fact, we’re not even informed when that data is traded and sold about us,” Tanner said. “I think we as patients should have the say in what happens. And I think many people would gladly give it to science, to respected researchers, and institutions in the hopes that they could make use of it to help solve diseases.”

  • Rep. Brandtjen On Holding Sanctuary Cities Accountable

    Republican State Representative Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls represents Wisconsin’s 22nd assembly district. She is proposing fines for municipalities that adopt a sanctuary city policy that may run a foul of immigration law. We find out what issues her bill would address, and what the consequences for cities could be.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Haleema Shah Producer
  • Marika Suval Producer
  • Karl Christenson Producer
  • Kate Archer Kent Producer
  • Justin Sydnor Guest
  • Adam Tanner Guest
  • Susan Scutti Guest
  • Janel Brandtjen Guest