The income umbrella (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

One of the big stories today is that news about intelligence agencies’ efforts to spy on people’s telephone records and Internet communications.

I am, frankly, so paranoid about (and, to be fair, fascinated) the idea of spies that I tend to attribute any slowness in my computers or telephone to the NSA, Chinese hacker warriors, or other international intelligence organizations.

A few weeks ago, hackers in, supposedly, “Bulgaria,” got into one of my e-mail accounts and had it many people (everyone?) with an e-mail in the inbox a message promoting Viagra. I’m fearing/hoping that was the NSA wanting to know more about my views on the state of the U.S. medical, long-term care and disability insurance sectors. 

Of course, what they’d really learn is that I’ve promised to send tortellini to the end-of-school picnic in a couple weeks, and that I have used my work e-mail account to send my child at least four or five pictures of cute baby animals, but maybe the spies the pictures of cute baby koala bears carry fascinating coded messages about how dark pools of derivatives are going to cause Ben Bernanke to spike up interest rates to topple the SIFIs, to cause Maurice Greenberg to ask Warren Buffett to prod Bill Gates to team up with Google to acquire Turkey through a private-equity transaction.

But it hit me that the story here for the disability insurance community is how great it would be for disability insurance underwriting if the underwriters had NSA-type access to all of prospects’, applicants and insureds phone and Internet communications.

My assumption is that pretty much all of the cool, free Internet services, from the YouTube video posting service, to the various Web-based map systems, to Siri and other device-based and Web-based voice-recognition systems, are examples of DARPA finding fun civilian uses for primitive versions of NSA surveillance systems.

What if disability insurers could get DARPA and Congress to help the U.S. intelligence agencies make a civilized version of Prism — one of the intelligence agencies’ systems for spying on our Internet communications — aimed at disability insurance underwriters?

Of course, there would be all sorts of red tape involving the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules and HIPAA’s state privacy rule cousins.

But if Congress, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and state insurance regulators could cut through that red tape:

  • Getting real-time, candid looks at the current health status of the overall population would be as easy as counting how many times people use words like “flu” and “fever” in their e-mails.
  • Underwriters could get permission from applicants to search through the Prism: The Civilian Version database and see of the applicants had texted much about topics such as aching backs or fibromylagia in the previous year, or if the applicants had spent much time visiting websites about heart disease or cancer.
  • Claim administrators could see if insureds who were receiving benefits were arranging their work schedules with their new, off-the-books employers.

Underwriting and claim administration would work a lot better. That could help insurers cut the cost of disability insurance will improving the quality and increasing their profits — and maybe sending a useful user fee to the NSA, to help the NSA fund its valuable increasingly universal surveillance operations. A win-win situation for everyone.

Of course, maybe colleagues would soon use some other version of Prism: The Civilian Version to find that message in which we unthinkingly made a somewhat funny, but very cruel, remark about a colleague’s weight, or a message relating to the reality that one times out of a hundred we voted for a candidate that wasn’t quite in sync with the views of the industry PAC.

But that slippery slope would be an awful lot of fun while we were skiing down it . . . 

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