Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 22, 2014

Apple's HealthKit Talks to Insurance Firms for a Possible New Focus

There's an increased focus on healthcare in the business world of late, thanks to things like the health insurance fracas still going on in Washington. But a new development is putting an increased focus on one particular part of healthcare as well, specifically, technology in the field. That new development is focusing on a confluence of factors: fitness tracking systems, health insurance firms, and Apple's HealthKit system.

Anyone who's had to shop for health insurance lately knows that questions about fitness kind of come into play, particularly as such firms ask questions about weight, and height, and frequency of hospitalization. These are attempts to derive risk in insurance. But with fitness trackers, there's now an even better way to find out risk by measuring the actual levels of physical activity done in a day, and fitness trackers are helping to drive that. Health insurers are offering to knock dollars off the cost of health insurance plans, and that's got companies very interested. But there are still some issues of infrastructure involved when it comes to getting that information from the various trackers to the insurers, and that's where Apple is coming in with the HealthKit system.

Apple has reportedly already been talking with UnitedHealth and Humana, two major parts of the insurance pie in the United States, about bringing in HealthKit, as well as a potential line of wearable devices likely to hit the market later on. Naturally, none of the companies involved weren't providing specific details about the conversations, but the idea is there if only in kit form. A set of wearable devices, plus a mechanism for compiling and forwarding the data, plus insurance companies equals what looks like a plan to tie premiums to fitness numbers.

It's hard to pin down just what this means for regular people because it's still so early in its overall design. After all, this could be a huge assault on our privacy, watching our every step to make sure it fits some kind of metric that we don't have much access to but are charged against accordingly. But by like token, there's certainly something to be said for taking the various facets of healthcare into our own hands—at least as far as we're able to take such things—and getting rewarded accordingly with lower-cost insurance. But then, that also opens up something of a can of worms in its own right; who pays for the fitness trackers? Is there credit against the insurance bill for those who do? Will those with better-quality fitness tracking systems—those that can precisely measure heart rate and distance traveled—get more discounts than those who can only afford the more generalized models? Are we opening up a two-tier system here, where those who can't afford top-notch systems get lower-quality insurance, and those who can get gold-star service? Worse, what's next? Will insurers demand cameras in homes to make sure a policyholder isn't smoking? Grocery list submissions—or even right of approval--to ensure proper diet?

It's the kind of thing that could go either way, and only a more complete view of the intended program will really say just what's going on. While it's easy to be suspicious here—and really not out of line—it's likewise not a bad idea to question just where this idea is going and what kind of impact it will have on the rest of us.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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