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The Medical Information Bureau - Health Insurance's Dirty Little Secret

Posted Apr 1st, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

Have you ever applied for health insurance, only to be turned down for reasons you didn’t understand?  Any form of health-related insurance, including life insurance, disability insurance, even long-term care insurance?

Maybe you were laid off and needed to make a new application, or you’ve decided to start your own business, retire early, or maybe you are simply planning for your future and know that the extra forms of insurance for when you get older will be useful…

When we want to borrow money for mortgages, car loans and credit cards, lenders refer to credit bureaus, like Equifax, to obtain information about our loan repayment history. If we are good bill payers, we are granted the loans we want.

Most people are surprised to learn that health-related insurers subscribe to a similar resource that provides them with information about our health histories. The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) supplies them with the information they need to determine whether we are healthy enough to warrant their coverage.  

If you applied for one of these insurances, it’s possible the MIB’s report about your health history played a role in the decision. The MIB compiled that report using information gathered from other members who insured you previously. The new insurer then made its decision about whether to accept your application based on that record.

Perhaps you are very healthy and have always been so. Lucky you! You were probably approved.

But maybe not. There are three possibilities for health-related insurance rejections:

First, if you lied on your application or even simply withheld information, even forgetting some of it, and you said you were healthy or hadn’t had problems in the past, then those problems were uncovered by the MIB, you would be rejected.

Second, if you had anything on your record would indicate you weren’t 100 percent healthy, then you would probably be turned down. Insurers avoid applicants with chronic illnesses like allergies, even more so those with heart disease, diabetes or any history of a more difficult illness. These are pre-existing conditions, and they indicate to insurance companies that you will cost them more money than they can ever make from you.

Sometimes, though, people apply for a health-related insurance, and get turned down for no apparent reason. It’s possible your records got mixed up, especially if you have a fairly common name.  It’s also possible your medical records weren’t accurate to begin with.

It becomes imperative, then, that you be certain your medical records contain no mistakes that could have a negative impact on your ability to get insurance. That means accessing a copy of your MIB record and reviewing it for errors. Similar to credit bureaus, the law states you may access your MIB consumer health record once each year at no cost, and dispute any errors you find in it.

Not everyone will have a record at the MIB, but if you have applied for any of the insurances listed above within the last seven years, it’s likely you will. To get your copy, call the MIB at 1-866-692-6901. If you are hearing impaired, you may use TTY 866-346-3642.

You’ll need to supply them with information like your social security number, your date of birth, current and previous mailing addresses, and any additional surnames you’ve had, like a maiden name. Once they have verified who you are, they will prepare a report for you, and mail you a copy within 15 days.

What will you find? Not much on that particular report. It will disclose only which of its members has requested information about you, and some basics so you can verify it was your record. For example, I applied, and was accepted for a life insurance policy last year. I requested my MIB record last month. The report tells me only which company requested my record, plus it lists my height and weight.

Your report may list more or less information than mine did. You should receive enough information to know whether you need to look further. For example, if my weight had been listed incorrectly, it would give me a clue that my report needed correcting.

If you want to make corrections or just obtain more information about your record, then make a copy of the paperwork they send you, write a letter that includes your contact information and the nature of your question or dispute, and mail it to the MIB. They will contact the member company that furnished the information, that company will investigate your claim and amend your record if it finds discrepancies. You’ll be notified of its decisions, and a copy of your dispute letter will be kept in your file for any future applications you may make.

The MIB claims that fewer than one percent of the histories it provides to its members are ever amended. We patients should translate that to mean the reports are either very accurate, or the companies that make the reports successfully defend the information they’ve included in the reports. Either way, and because they may make such a difference in our future ability to get insurance, it’s worth reviewing, and correcting if necessary.

Learn more at the Medical Information Bureau website.


About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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