UnitedHealthcare offering Apple Watches to employee wellness plan members

First announced in March, the program allows participants to pay off the device's cost by meeting daily fitness goals.
By Dave Muoio
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Starting this month, UnitedHealthcare members enrolled in the insurer’s incentive-based “Motion” program are able track their daily activity using their personal Apple Watch, or one purchased and earned through the program. This comes roughly half a year after UnitedHealthcare first announced the availability back in March, and a few months after the July rollout planned at the time.

Through the employer-sponsored program, eligible participants use a fitness wearable to record their daily steps and receive monetary rewards for reaching certain daily milestone — for instance, logging 10,000 daily steps or 3,000 steps within a 30-minute period.

The program allows eligible participants to order and begin using the Apple Watch at no initial cost outside of tax and delivery, and then earn the device by meeting their daily goals. Achieving these can earn program participants up to $4 each day, according to UnitedHealthcare, meaning that the full price of the watch can be reached within six months.

“We look at movement as a form of medicine, so that is the starting point for UnitedHealthcare Motion,” Paul Sterling, VP of emerging products for UnitedHealthcare, told MobiHealthNews in an email. “Wearables are already making a significant impact on the health and well-being of UnitedHealthcare plan participants nationwide, and the addition of Apple Watch provides people with access to the world’s No. 1 smartwatch. This program is part of UnitedHealthcare’s annual investment of more than $3 billion in data, technology and innovation, with the goal of helping people along their journey toward health and creating a more connected health care system.”

What’s the impact

Of the “hundreds of thousands” of people UnitedHealthcare said have access to the Motion Plan, more than 45 percent have chosen to participate. Fifty-nine percent of those who register a device remain active for at least six months, current participants log a daily average of 12,000 steps and since launch more than $38 million has been earned through incentive rewards, according to the payer.

In short, this means that a substantial number of active plan members may now be exposed to Apple’s wearable, the latest version of which boasts an updated accelerometer and gyroscope, a heart rate monitor and other software-based health features. Similarly, others who may be eligible for the program but have not enrolled could be enticed by the top-selling smartwatch, increasing their general wellness and reducing burden on healthcare at large.

What’s the trend

UnitedHealth kicked off its Motion program with Qualcomm Life back in March 2016, and originally used activity tracking devices provided by Trio Motion. Since then, the company added wearables from Fitbit, Samsung and Garmin to the lineup while embracing other digital technologies like apps and CGMs throughout the rest of its business.

Apple, for its part, has supplied its watches to Aetna since September 2016, and has often alluded to its interest in the employee wellness space.

On the record

“UnitedHealthcare’s success using wearables, incentives and digital platforms has helped people enhance their well-being, providing support and motivation to stay engaged in their health,” Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement. “More employers and consumers are adopting wearables and digital platforms as key resources to support them on their journey toward better health.”