Check Your Blood Pressure, (Unwittingly) Sell Your Contact Information

(April Dembosky/KQED)

(April Dembosky/KQED)

Health insurance companies are on the prowl for more customers. There are still three months to go for people to enroll in health plans under the Affordable Care Act, but insurers don’t want to rely solely on state or federal websites to find them. Some are finding a path to new customers by partnering with companies that operate health-screening kiosks –- those machines in supermarkets and drug stores where people check their blood pressure or weight.

One of these kiosks sits in aisle ten of a Safeway grocery store in a city near San Francisco. It’s nestled next to the shelves of antacid and cold medicine. Sitting down at the machine is like slipping into the cockpit of a 1980s arcade game. There’s a big plastic seat and foot rest for measuring weight and body mass index, a window for testing vision, and a blood pressure cuff.

“Make sure the cuff comes up above your elbow,” says an attractive brunette on screen. She is wearing a white lab coat, and her hair is pulled back in a tight bun. She asks a lot of personal questions throughout the session, like “Do you have a blood relative who was told they have a heart problem?” Or, “During the past 30 days, how many days have you felt sad or depressed?” Continue reading