If you don’t know your credit score you probably live under a rock. Or you’ve never turned on a television and been bombarded with ads promising to get you a free copy of your credit report or “repair” bad credit. What you may not know is that there are hundreds of other consumer scoring systems out there, systems that rate everything from how likely you are to buy a product to whether you’re a security risk when you step on a plane.
Most of these scores are secret. So secret, in fact, that you aren’t allowed to see them or even know of their existence. They affect your life in a billion different ways both large and small. And while all are a blatant invasion of privacy, some are more dangerous than others.
One of the most frightening is the FICO “Medication Adherence Scale.”
Big Brother says you WILL take your meds
A little over a year after the passage of the so-called Affordable Care Act, the credit score gods at FICO quietly rolled out a new “service” called the Medication Adherence Score (MAS).
Much like a credit score, MAS analyzes existing data about you to predict how likely you are to take—or at least buy—your prescriptions. And while Big Medicine, Big Pharma, and pretty much any other Big Guy who’s willing to pay a fee can have access to this score, you are not allowed to see it. You also have no control over what data is used to create it, and no way to dispute anything in your record.
Like a credit score, only better.
...Better for Big Pharma and Big Insurance, that is.
But it’s “for your own good!”
The stated purpose is to “predict which patients are at highest risk for skipping or incorrectly using prescription medications.” Because you know, if you’re not buying their drugs, Big Pharma is losing money. And we can’t have that. According to FICO, the MAS will let insurance companies and other healthcare groups choose patients who “could benefit the most from follow-up phone calls, letters and e-mails to encourage proper use of medication.”
Another advertising stream. Surprise!
Coming on the heels of the ACA, this new scoring system is downright chilling. Today, it may be used to push more ads and fill your inbox with spam. But what about next year? Or five years from now? As it becomes a routinely-used score, will you be fined for not taking your pills? Will you see your health insurance rates go up? Or your car insurance? After all, if you have a perfect driving record but lousy credit, your car insurance may be higher than your house payment.
And how about jobs? More and more employers are looking at employee credit scores before hiring, and MAS has the potential to be much more damaging. With the ACA already forcing many employers to cut hours or downsize their workforce, anything that may raise health insurance rates is a bar to employment. This so-called adherence score has the potential to affect your life in even more ways than your credit score.
They’re pulling these numbers out of thin air
So what is this magic number based on? Not on how well we follow our doctors’ instructions, that’s for sure. According to FICO’s site:
“The FICO® Medication Adherence Score will use a patient’s prescription claims history when available and pull on other publicly available third-party data sources when no other information is present. With an individual’s name and address, an entire patient population can be scored, including new members and those new to therapy.”
Read that again.
They will track your prescription purchases if they can. Not whether you take it, just whether you buy it. That alone is bad enough—I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want the whole world to know what kind of medications I buy, or how often. However, the second part of the statement is even worse.
If your prescription information isn’t available, they’ll grab whatever other information they can about you and use that. Like what online stores you like to shop at. And what you bought with your credit card in the last year. And whether you bought baby diapers, adult diapers, or Tylenol when you used your Walgreens rewards card. This completely irrelevant information will be used to decide how likely you are to follow your doctor’s instructions.
And all they need is your name and address.
That is downright terrifying for anyone who values their privacy or their rights.
What’s the scariest thing of all?
It’s completely secret.
You can’t opt out of it.
You can’t view it yourself.
And you have no way to dispute any information used to calculate your score. And yet, it’s likely to affect your life in myriad ways as time goes on. Consider this:
Back in the 80s, credit scores were virtually unheard of among everyday people. It wasn’t until the 90s that they began to be used to approve or deny mortgages. But by 2002, they were the determining factor in whether you could buy a house, a car, or any other big-ticket item. Today, they may affect everything from your car insurance to your ability to get a job.
This MAS score will be the same. The FICO credit score has already set a precedent.
What can you do?
Be informed. Don’t take a prescription just because it’s offered—grill your doctor on whether you really need it and what will happen if you don’t take it. If you do accept a prescription, make darn sure you fill it.
And if you’re planning on buying “unhealthy” items like cigarettes, fast food, sodas, and the like, pay for them with cash. Remember—FICO sees everything you buy with a debit or credit card. And the MAS can use information gathered from practically anywhere. So when you buy that fast food, it might impact your MAS. When you buy that 42-ounce Coke and bag of Cheetos, the FICO gods are marking it down and using it to calculate your MAS...as least if you used your debit card.
It’s that serious. You see, the fact is that, because it IS so secret, we have no idea what they’re using this score for right now. It could already be affecting our health insurance premiums, or even our credit scores. And we know from experience that it won’t get better--once the Big Guys have a tool that gives them leverage against us, they’re not going to willingly let it go. And we have a whole new crop of “smart” drugs—drugs with sensors embedded in them that can track things like whether you took the pill, what your temperature is, and even your location.
Combine that with the MAS score and I can see doctor’s saying, “Well, it looks like you’re prone to not taking your meds, so I’m going to prescribe the ‘smart’ version of this pill to make sure you take it.” In 5 years, not filling your prescriptions might mean you find the Health Police knocking at your door to “detain” you and make you comply.
So...in the interest of privacy and keeping control of your own health, lose the plastic and use the cash.
One final word: FICO’s site has a special section for pharmaceutical manufacturers, which can only be unlocked by providing your contact information. In an effort to see how this MAS is marketed to Big Pharma, I attempted to unlock this area. I was denied. I guess they couldn’t find the company “Big Pharma, Inc.” or the phone number 867-5309 in their database. ...I hope that didn’t affect my score.