US Health Insurer Rewards Members for Tracking Activity With Wearables

US Health Insurer Rewards Members for Tracking Activity With Wearables
A man looks at his Fitbit, in a file photo. (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)
Caden Pearson

U.S. insurance company UnitedHealthcare has introduced an incentive program designed to reward members with up to $1,000 each per year for embracing healthy behavior monitored by wearable trackers.

Members can earn financial rewards as incentives for completing daily and one-time activities, such as achieving a certain number of steps, tracking sleep, taking a biometric screening, and completing a health survey, UnitedHealthcare stated.

The rewards can be redeemed as cash gift cards or deposited into a health savings account. The program aims to motivate members to take charge of their health and improve overall health care, according to the company.

UnitedHealthcare noted that members can prove their daily activity using an activity tracker, smartwatch, or smartphone.

“UnitedHealthcare Rewards is a more modern approach to employer-sponsored well-being programs, leveraging gamification elements, and giving members the opportunity to earn incentives for any number of activities that may promote health,” Brandon Cuevas, chief growth officer of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement.
In 2021, the cost of health care in the United States rose by 2.7 percent, totaling $4.3 trillion and equating to $12,914 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That accounts for 18.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The rewards program is now available to select employers with fully insured plans and will roll out to self-insured plan members in 2024, according to the company.

Unintended Consequences

A group of Harvard researchers expressed concern in a JAMA Viewpoint column about the potential negative consequences of insurance companies encouraging healthy lifestyles by the use of wearable devices to record physical activity and calorie intake, the American Medical Association reported.

The researchers suggested that regulations are needed to protect consumers from any unintended consequences of such programs, such as impacts on premium, accuracy, cost, and privacy.

Insurance companies could use the data collected by these devices to raise policyholders’ premiums or deny them insurance, the researchers reportedly wrote.

The devices may also produce inaccurate readings, which could result in incorrect rewards for healthy behavior or harmful treatment. The high cost of these devices could exacerbate health care disparities and keep people with lower incomes from participating in incentivized programs.

Finally, the personal data generated by these devices is at risk of being distributed to third parties and isn’t protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

“Digital health devices generate substantive amounts of personal data that can be at risk for distribution to invested third parties,” the researchers wrote.

They also noted that there may be some benefits of using mobile devices to increase physical activity.

“To the extent that digital health devices encourage healthy behaviors and empower individuals to participate in their health, incentivizing use of these devices by integrating them in insurance policies may be attractive,” the researchers wrote.

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