Anorexic? Your Insurance Company Could Subpeona Your Writings On MySpace And Facebook

How’s this for twisted: An insurance company, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, have demanded that the parents of minor children who suffer from anorexia turn over their children’s writings on MySpace and Facebook, as well as any emails where they discuss their problems.

The insurer says that eating problems are not “biologically based” and are therefore not covered. From

In December, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz ordered the plaintiffs to turn over by Jan. 15 the children’s e-mails, diaries and other writings about their “eating disorders or manifestations/symptoms thereof, and related health conditions” that had been “shared with others, including entries on Web sites such as ‘Facebook’ or ‘MySpace.'”

On Tuesday, Shwartz ordered the plaintiffs to certify by Feb. 15 whether they have produced everything in their possession in response to the discovery order and what steps they have taken to comply.

Shwartz’s December order narrowed the scope of an October order that was not restricted to writings shared with other people. The plaintiffs had asked Shwartz to reconsider the October order on the ground that the writings were therapy tools, not meant to be shown to others, and that their disclosure would cause anxiety and possibly even a relapse.

Aww, c’mon. That’s messed up. Does a court really need to dissect some poor kid’s miserable diary entries to figure out if a disease is biologically based?

MySpace, Facebook Pages Called Key to Dispute Over Insurance Coverage for Eating Disorders [LAW]
(Photo:Teen Angst)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Parting says:

    A new low for insurance in US.

  2. Randy says:

    Insurance companies are in the business to make money, not spend it, so it makes sense they would try to get out of treating an eating disorder. Money talks, B***s*** walks. Sadly, this seems to be just another example of twisting the legal system to avoid living paying out profits.

  3. humphrmi says:

    Does a court really need to dissect some poor kid’s miserable diary entries to figure out if a disease is biologically based?

    Diary entries, no. Facebook is a public web site. If you post stuff for the public to see, you should expect others to see it.

    And as the article points out, this ruling actually reduced the scope of an earlier ruling, such that only information published to public websites fell under discovery.

  4. ncboxer says:

    Wow, that’s messed up.

  5. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    I would SO sue for invasion of privacy. Total bullshit.

  6. girly says:

    I think it should be covered. If the body is malnourished and too small, that’s biological, no matter the root cause.

  7. clank-o-tron says:

    @aaron8301: Check the user agreement for these sites – I’d be surprised if there was any guarantee of privacy. This is different than having text files on a web server that you SSH into.

  8. simonster says:

    What does it mean for a mental disorder not to be “biologically based”? Does Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield believe in Cartesian dualism?

  9. RenardRouge says:

    @girly: The question is whether it’s a biologically/genetically-carried disease, or if it’s self-inflicted. Is anorexia something you inherit from your mom & dad, or is it something you do to yourself?

  10. peggyhill says:

    none of this surprised me anymore.

  11. Snarkysnake says:

    You know what is next ?

    2011: (Insurance lawyer in front of a packed court room)

    ” Mr. Snarkysnake, I see here by your supermarket loyalty card that over the last 4 years you have purchased over 200 six packs of Old Milwaukee beer,over 190 packages of Oreos and countless “party size” bags of Lays Potato Chips. Can you tell the court why Purple Cross/Purple Shield should pay for the stent that you CLAIM is needed to save your life “?

    Mr. Snarkysnake: “Aggghhh ! My heart “! (gasping for air)

    See how easily we GIVE our rights away ?

  12. G0lluM says:

    This is an outrage! I’m a firm believer in the “if you don’t want it to be read by EVERYONE, don’t post it” rule, but I doubt most teenagers would have the forethought to wonder ahead of time if they might be compromising their legal positions in future litigations with insurance companies before they post to MySpace or Facebook etc. etc.

    This is a perfect example of how insurance companies take your premiums every month and then when you need them to pay a claim are willing to use every excuse in the book (and as this story indicates, invent entire new ones!) to avoid having to pay up.

  13. enoughwealth says:

    With insurance you get what you pay for. If you’re only covered for “biologically based” illnesses, then mental illness isn’t covered. Fair enough to use PUBLIC records to establish whether or not the illness is actually covered by the insurance policy.

    Of course, if you want the insurance companies to pay for every claim, then it wouldn’t matter if the root cause of the illness was biologically based or not. Hope no-one minds paying much higher insurance premiums though. And those that can’t pay the higher premiums would have no cover at all. Unless they opted for insurance that had some specific exclusions, for example mental illness. Hey, that’s what they have already!

  14. ThinkerTDM says:

    Welcome to capitalism!
    No wonder the world hates us- I hate us too!

  15. G0lluM says:

    @snarkysnake: :jaw drops: I bet you’re 100% right! Maybe I should rethink how much that $10 or so I save at the grocery store every weekend is actually worth to me…

  16. ShadowFalls says:

    Doesn’t this fall under the category of psychological illnesses which would be covered anyway? Something like this can be biologically based and it is difficult to determine that factor. It can be anything from hormones to a thyroid condition.

  17. ShadowFalls says:


    If it is set to be private does it still apply? That would mean you would show it only to those you wish to see it. Public when regard to a diary would be like you publishing it in a newspaper, if you have it so only those you want to see it can, that it straight privacy there. Shame on this judge for invading her privacy.

  18. DragonflyLotus says:

    @snarkysnake: “Aggghhh ! My heart “! is exactly what I’m thinking after considering the implications of your post along with the Intelius story.

    My new personal mission is to wipe myself out of every database in existence (or at least provide enough false information to confuse the hell out of anybody trying to track my behavior). Of course, since being dead is not even enough to get out of a cell contract, my efforts may have little effect.

  19. Snarkysnake says:


    Heres a tip : Go to and read up on this. Best of luck in getting out of the datebases…

  20. Joafu says:

    Why is anyone surprised at this? When you post on the internet, you’re posting for the world to see, regardless if the people who see it are your girlfriends or scumbag insurance companies. Here’s a hint: instead of whinning about your food problems on myspace, talk to your parents or *gasp* your doctor about the problem; if they were subpoena’ed than that would be invasion of privacy.

  21. 8abhive says:

    Kind of sad, but it’s great for the peek it provides into our broken system. As an issue it’ll generate plenty of emotion and mail for the politicians.

  22. kittenfoo says:

    what would happen if everybody who has health insurance suddenly dropped it? like, on the same day?

  23. Rhyss says:

    Sorry to say, but many mental illnesses are considered a “biologically based disease.” Various eating disorders can be influenced by things such as major depression and bi-polar disorder – which are considered “biological.” Regardless, eating disorders are very serious and for an insurance plan to not treat any disorder classified in the DSM (bible for psychiatrists and mental health workers) should not be allowed unless pre-established by the insurance coverage.

  24. forgottenpassword says:

    UGH! Ya just gotta love it when insurance companies do everything under the sun in an attempt to weasel out of doing what they were paid to do.

  25. gfinakoma says:

    this is disgusting.

  26. ahwannabe says:

    @dragonflylotus: Somebody ought to start a social networking site called, for people who want to lay out as much disinformation about themselves as possible.

  27. nrwfos says:

    If it’s in writing and it’s available to anyone but a person with the legal responsibility of confidentiality to you, then it can be subpoenaed. You really have to have an expectation of privacy to claim it. That said, I keep no diaries and I never write anything that remotely resembles a threat or malicious intent. Never write or say anything that can be seen as something that can be held against you should you or someone else come to harm. With the openness of the internet, there is no expectation of privacy.

  28. mikelotus says:

    @enoughwealth: what? mental illness is not biologically based? our brains are actually computer hardware? how about that.

  29. mantari says:

    Meghann! I could be wrong, but shouldn’t that be “subpoena” and not “subpeona”?

  30. UpsetPanda says:

    Biological illness, I think, refers to attributes you can have physical evidence of. CT scans, MRIs, etc. Psychological illnesses are things that have roots in beliefs or perceptions, like anorexia. Psychological illnesses often intertwine with biological because psychological illnesses often cause biological symptoms. Depression is a psychological illness but some of the things that go along with being depressed, like insomnia (for some people), headaches, those are biological.

    In the case of anorexia, the illness (I believe) is psychological in nature. An extremely thin person might not be anorexic but other biological clues (wearing down of the esophagus from vomiting, unhealthy, gaunt features) give indication that a person who is very thin but looks physically unhealthy may be anorexic.

  31. D-Bo says:

    @aaron8301: How is it an invasion of privacy if the documents are published on your myspace? And who exactly are you going to sue? The judge is compelling this disclosure and you certainly can;t sue him.

  32. matt says:

    Do they treat alcoholism as being “biologically based”? Every alcoholic I’ve ever met has said “I love drinkin'”

  33. ampersand says:

    @rhyss: Sorry to say? And what’s with the quotation marks? What are you, a Scientologist?

  34. smitty1123 says:

    Just one more reason why I dropped all my health insurance. I’m just taking that cash that I was spending on insurance, sticking it into my savings account and I’ll just let the chips fall where they may.

  35. ecwis says:

    @Randy: Actually, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is a “not-for-profit organization”. So at least according to them, their goal is not to make money.

  36. Tracy Ham and Eggs as played by Walter Mondale says:

    @D-Bo: Don’t forget, the only reason the judge is compelling this is cause the PARENTS brought suit. When you sue you give up all rights of privacy since the defendant can ask for disclosure on any even marginally relevant information.

  37. rmuser says:

    Wouldn’t it be catastrophically traumatic for children suffering from mental conditions, when a faceless corporation that was supposed to be helping them, mercilessly violates their privacy, slits its throat, chops it into pieces and throws it into a ditch? I can’t imagine a more perverse course of action for a health insurance company to take than forcing children into court and exposing their most private writings.

    It doesn’t matter if they posted it on a portion of the internet that is, technically, public. That won’t make them feel any better about it. You really think every kid using social networks operates under the assumption that one day, everything they write will become part of the public record when an insurance company takes them to court?

    The fact that they would even try to pull this shit is unforgivable.

  38. Hambriq says:

    Allowing a disease such as anorexia to go unchecked is infinitely more costly in the long run to the insurance company than dealing with it in the short term. This aspect of our health insurance system is unfathomable to me. When you look at the simple economics of the situation, providing coverage for her just makes sense. Another example that immediately pops into mind is the unwillingness of insurance companies to pay for smoking cessation treatment such as Chantix, or even the patch, gum, or lozenges.

    And that’s not touching on the “New Jersey law requires coverage of mental illness only if it is biologically based,” part of the article. Anybody who is an expert on the subject, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but have we even reached a consensus about the role of biology in causing mental illness? How exactly are we supposed to determine this on a case by case basis? Especially given the extremely loose interpretations one could take on either end of the spectrum.

  39. number9ine says:

    It’s a civil litigation matter if the insurance company chooses to make it one. This is a typical discovery request and is par for course.

    That’s not to say that the extended level of doucehbaggery on part of said insurance company isn’t disgusting.

  40. Robobot says:

    A therapist I know actually encouraged me not to tell anyone on the internet about my health, physical or mental. Horror stories like this one are pretty common. She has young patients with what insurance companies and the government call “mental deficiencies.” (Psychosis, eating disorders, etc.) She said some of her patients have made the mistake of contacting their teachers and professors about their mental illnesses. It went on their files at school and now they can’t get insurance.

    The state of our mental health system is so sad.

  41. nequam says:

    @smitty1123: Great! When the chips don’t fall your way, the rest of us will be glad to pay for you.

  42. littlealbatross says:

    There are a ton of “pro-anorexia” communities on Livejournal so this doesn’t really surprise me. It’s highly unfortunate that people who are suffering and choose to write about it online are being punished but I can’t help but think the people that call themselves “ana” and ask for tips on how best to not pass out while they only drink water all day are at least somewhat to blame for insurance companies being wary.

  43. thesuperpet says:

    Myspace and facebook– yeah, that’s okay as long as you can prove that that profile belongs to the person in question.
    Looking at a diary or personal emails? Not so much I think.

  44. CurbRunner says:

    It appears that health insurance companies are now taking the no-more-privacy green light from government and morphing on into using fascist-based excuses to advance their bottom line, when and wherever they feel like doing so.

  45. camille_javal says:

    Interesting, since I believe there was a study that came out a year or two ago that had some of the first evidence of there being genetic predisposition to eating disorders. The research is in an early stage, but it’s there.

    The general consensus (amongst those who are neither Scientologists nor Freudians) is that, to a significant degree, mental illness has a biological basis – chemical imbalances, genetic wiring – in what is considered more “extreme,” like schizophrenia, there is, in fact, visible evidence on a brain scan.

    I’m not really sure what evidence BC/BS is trying to get here, either. Are they just trying to prove that these girls have eating disorders? Is it necessary, then, to take actions that could have very negative psychological ramifications? Or are they going to claim that a 14-year-old girl claiming that she’s happy this way, she wants to be this way, and she behaves in ways that make it worse, somehow means it’s not biologically based…?

    I used to have Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield in NJ. I also have a generalized anxiety disorder marked by panic episodes and obsessive-compulsive behavior, and major depression. These problems manifested themselves in an eating disorder. Thank god my psychiatric treatment was through a no-cost program at a med school, but I wonder now if they’ll even threaten to stop prescription coverage for psychotropics provided as a part of treatment.

  46. Trai_Dep says:

    It’s obscene. People post to myspace and the like, usually obscuring their name, address, etc. Hence there IS an expectation of privacy.

  47. Coelacanth says:

    Ugh, I’m surprised that people have failed to mention that a user’s Facebook profile is NOT open to the entire public. Only users within that person’s network have any access to a person’s profile, and much of the content is only available to user’s friends by default.

    With the myriad of privacy controls on Facebook, the website doesn’t intend a uesr’s content to be disseminated to everyone.

    This is highly disturbing.

  48. asherchang2 says:

    I thought that anorexia WAS biologically based and actually somewhat inheritable.

    Some people produce an abnormally high amount of (serotonin?) some neurotransmitter which makes them extremely anxious in general. Then, starving themselves stops production of a certain protein and then actually balances out the neurotransmitter levels. I forget the details, but this was all from a news article about a study or something.

  49. Gorky says:


    No. Anorexia is a condition that people who are vain bring on themselves. They dont eat because they think they are fat. Its not biological and not mental. They are just vain people who think they have to make everyone think they are sexy.

  50. Gorky says:


    Oh and the cure for anorexia is simple and cheap (no insurance necessary), It’s called EAT something

  51. kenposan says:

    As far as I know, Anorexia is not “biologically” based, although it may be secondary to a biologically-based illness such as depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, body dysmorphic disorder…

  52. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Schizophrenia is a mental illness with known biological components. If I were schizophrenic, and I wrote about hearing voices on my blog, would that somehow prove that it wasn’t biological and the insurance company didn’t have to cover me?

    I don’t know what on earth the insurance companies hope to find in some teenage girl’s blog entries beyond confirmation that she thinks she’s fat.

  53. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    And where did you go to medical school?

  54. boobaloob says:

    @Gorky: It’s not biological and it’s not mental??? Hmm, that is so interesting and totally different than the research I’ve read and teachings I’ve received as part of the clinical psychology PhD program that I’m currently enrolled in! Care to let me know where you’ve gotten your information from?

  55. Gorky says:


    It’s common sense. You’re skinny, then eat. Too many people overanalyze stuff. Its like this epidemic of supposed ADD in kids. When I went to school there was no such thing (and it was only 20 years ago). Some kids had bad parents who worked instead of staying home and raising them when they were young and they acted out. They were paddled for it IN SCHOOL and they didnt act up again. ADD is an excuse for bad parenting. So instead of punishing the kids we make up a disease and drug them to calm them down. Ridiculous

  56. brokeincollege says:

    @Gorky: You lost me at “had bad parents who worked”. Are you implying that dual income parents are bad parents? Are you also implying that kids who go to boarding school also have bad parents? This is the 21st century, not the 1950’s.

  57. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Sleazy. Remember kids, never disclose your real identity when you’re posting on the Internet.

    I long for the good old days when that was supposed to protect you from child molesters, not insurance companies.

    @Gorky: It’s general knowledge that Anorexia is classified as a legitimate mental disorder (along with a whole host of other disorders that self-appointed “perfect” people insist don’t exist).

    I’m sure all the parents and friends of Anorexia victims who have committed suicide would agree that the victim was “just trying to get attention.”(/sarcasm)

  58. Rhyss says:

    No I’m not a scientologist – trolling? I am a mental health professional and in my part of town we don’t typically use “bilogical” in our lingo. We use things like “oranically based”. . . I consider most mental illness to be effected by both internal causes and external causes. Like someone who may be a “worrier” but their mugged and their worrying has evolved into a diagnosable mental illnes because they are afraid to leave their house for 2 years . I only work in an in-patient psychaitric hospital though – so what do I know.

  59. PICKLES_IN_MY_TUNA says:

    WTF. I once knew someone with anorexia, they died. I believe their death was considered “biologically based”.

    WOW. Good job to the pencil pushing dickhead at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield that decided that lame ass idea would work. Did they get a bonus?

    Shame, shame, shame on U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz.

  60. Gorky says:


    Yes I AM calling parents who both insist on working bad. My father worked 3 jobs so that my mother could stay home and raise me and my brother. Other parents could do the same. Or they could drive a 20 year old car like we did instead of the 2 new SUVs in the garage. They can also drop cable TV, High speed internet, and eat at home instead of going out. Raising kids is supposed to be a sacrifice.

  61. UpsetPanda says:

    @Gorky: In this day and age, sometimes it isn’t possible. Sometimes, both parents need to work. Don’t assume that no sacrifices are being made – on the contrary, when both parents work I think much is being sacrificed, as there isn’t one parent who can give 100% time and energy to a child. But when kids can have a better life because both parents are working, that means something else entirely. You say your father worked three jobs – what has that done to his health, his time with his family? If your mother had taken up one job, or a part-time job, would you have gotten more of your father in exchange for just a bit less from your mother? Why is it that two-income households are bad, because in many cases it is what needs to be done so that everyone can be healthy? Or is it that you feel that it is somehow more noble for one parent to work while the other one slaves away at home, raising the kids. There’s sacrifice in raising kids, period. There is always sacrifice, don’t cheapen the hard work of many two-income families by calling the parents bad because they worked hard for the sake of the entire family. It doesn’t make you better.

  62. mjgolds says:

    WOW, the sheer number of stories on this site of how unethical US insurance companies and hospitals are makes me glad I live in a country with free healthcare and medicine for all. I can walk in to any hospital present the government issued healthcard and get treated ont he spot, I wonder how long it willt ake the US government to work out, like Australia, France, UK and Canada have, that the cost of treatment is far outweighed by lost revenue from taxes, not only personal income tax but also business tax, as it has a flow on affect to consumer spending and productivity aswell.

  63. girly says:

    @Gorky: common sense can’t always cancel out mental blocks (maybe more than people will give it a chance for, though)

    some things you have to work through

    you have to do more than just get them to eat, you have to get them to do it for themselves, because you can’t spend your whole life forcing them to do the right thing

    it is true that our living conditions are part of the problem, but the environment can’t really be removed

    I’d say you’re missing the point on needing a parent at home. Kids don’t necessarily ‘need’ one parent at home, they just need to be cared for. Probably ‘ideal’ would go beyond having *only* one parent at home. Ideal would probably be you have a farm or home business and the family works together so you have both parents around. Or parents that trade off who works so the kids get to have time with each parent.

    Even children who have a parent at home can be short-changed by parents who don’t really interact with their kids.

    Attention and care is the issue, and that can be provided even if both parents work.

  64. girly says:

    @Gorky: By the way, some dual income families are doing it just to get by, not to live the high life.

    And some families want to be able to spend time with both parents, so the work and the parenting is divided more equally.

  65. polyeaster says:

    Yeah, but it also said the insurance companies are requesting emails- emails are written by someone to another person, not the same as public info on Facebook, etc.

  66. Benstein says:

    The parents should counter sue for violation of HIPPA in that the insurance companies are making there health condition known publicly.

  67. amccoll says:

    I do believe that everything you put on the internet is fair game (that’s why we all use screen names instead of first/last, it’s just common sense) but then there’s the gray area of “private” profiles…where is the line between public information and private information. Where’s the line between journal entries vs. credit card info? It’s all so new there are no federal laws for it, so companies such as these really are free to make the laws up as they go.

  68. josh42042 says:

    This is crazy. Anorexia is not “biological”???

    Any mental disorder is bioligically based – is the brain not part of your phisiology?

    Sounds like this company is just looking for a reason not to help them.