Apple Watch, health insurance and the future of work

Will you get a pay cut if you don't eat your greens?

Packed with sensors Apple Watch is your go to tool to stay on top of your personal health – and health insurers want to limit liability by urging use of Cupertino’s wristpiece even as employers want to cut spiralling health insurance costs.

Through strength joy

Health insurance firms across the planet offer insurance deals in which a person’s premiums are based on their personal fitness and activity levels as tracked by wearable health sensors. We already know these connected health solutions do encourage healthier habits.

Also read: 10 great Apple Watch OS 2-compatible apps you’ll use

In Johannesburg, South Africa this weekend Discovery launched a new initiative in which it is giving clients Apple Watches for free so long as they maintain weekly fitness goals for 24-months.

The offer uses the device’s fitness tracking capabilities to assess personal health, and the insurers get to set the goals. If you remain fully active you pay nothing at all, but if you have an inactive month you must pay toward the cost of the watch.

“I think people will move up and down and be fairly independent. So, if one month you’re incredibly active, you won’t pay. If you then slack off for a few months, you’ll move your way up that payment schedule,” said Discovery CEO Adrian Gore.

Slaves to the rhythm

Discovery isn’t the only company linking health insurance up to Apple Watch ownership. Alstate, John Hancock, Health Care Service Corporation and many others are looking to harness the Apple device. In Germany AOK NorthEast was among the first to use Apple Watch in this way.

Health analytics company, Welltok, found 96 percent of consumers would engage in healthier behaviors if they were rewarded – and 30 percent would choose lower insurance premiums as their prize.

Also read: How to export Apple Health data as a document to share.

Whatever they claim don’t imagine insurers care about you. All they want is to limit risk by encouraging us all to live better. Then they want to offer the healthy customers loyalty inducements and charge less healthy people more. You already find similar deals in the auto insurance market where you pay less for insurance if you are a safe driver.

Work makes you well

However, it seems likely one day it will become mandatory to wear connected health devices, because employers will insist on it.

IBM last month began offering Apple Watch to all its employees as part of its ‘Commit to Health’ scheme. Fitbit also works with a large number of companies to incorporate activity tracking into corporate wellness programs.

For the employer the big benefit comes in reduced company health insurance premiums as insurers charge less for healthier habits.

One company gave Fitbits to each of 400 employees and cut its healthcare insurance by $280,000 when it did, which more than paid for these devices.

Nearly 90 percent of companies offered some type of incentivized wellness program as of 2013, according to a survey of 151 companies by Fidelity Investments.

This makes it inevitable Apple Watch will enter similar use. After all, Apple’s product also adds a host of useful connected features for digitally transformed businesses.

Give me convenience

It’s a mission creep, really. Michelle Snyder, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Welltok said. “We are starting to see our clients rewarding people for tracking other behaviors, such as eating healthier or joining condition management programs.”

It is in the nature of the unfolding synchronicity that it masks its desire for control with tangible convenience. Without safeguards around privacy and fair use of information gathered by these systems, it is conceivable employers will eventually track every move their employees make.

Also read: 11 privacy and security tips for OS X Mac users

There is a danger that as the boundaries between our personal and work lives become more blurred, employees could become subject to unwarranted control over their personal habits, potentially seeing their pay cut because they do not eat their greens? This will inevitably concern privacy advocates.

Did you need to wear a wearable to work today?

Because tomorrow, you might have to.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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