Apple steps up Health push as it begins talks with insurers

With Apple's new Health app set to launch this year, the company has been in discussions with insurance companies about where it could fit into their business.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Apple's Health app. Image: Apple

Apple has been in talks with US health insurance firms, it has emerged - notably those that have already taken steps to integrate data from wearables into insurance policies.

Apple has been preparing the ground for the launch of its Health application, which will debut alongside iOS 8 later this year. Besides recent talks with US healthcare providers and developers of health-related apps, Apple has also been courting large US health insurance firms.

News of Apple's discussions with health insurers came via an interesting report from Bloomberg today on the emergence of company-funded wearables in the workplace. The report notes that Apple has talked with America's biggest insurer, UnitedHealth, as well as fellow health insurer Humana.

Bloomberg highlights that the two insurance companies have also created programs to integrate wearables into their policies, in order create reward systems based on data from the devices shared with the insurer's systems.

UnitedHealth had a presence at CES earlier this year, where it showcased its work with game developers to combat obesity through school-based health programs that used wireless mats to track students' activity. Similarly, the idea there was to encourage people to monitor their own health using technology.

Beyond Apple's new health app, exactly what was talked about isn't clear, however the report explores some of the ways insurers and companies are using fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, to tackle rising medical expenses — an issue pertinent to employers in the US, which often foot the bill for employee health insurance.

According to the publication, BP bought 25,000 Fitbit devices for its employees as part of an initiative to cut health insurance costs. Under the program, employees must log one million steps to earn half of the 1,000 points they need to qualify for lower health costs. The company verifies whether the employee achieved the milestone by looking at Fitbit data in aggregate.

Apple's Health and the iOS developer toolset, HealthKit, not to mention its rumoured iWatch, could play in an important role in connecting employee health data with insurance firms.

Health will be used to store measurements of a user's health, such as calories consumed, sleep and heart rate. The application will also let people create emergency health cards that can be accessed via the home screen, offering a shortcut to existing medical conditions or allergies.

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