UnitedHealth to Launch Wearable Device Coverage Plan

WearablesStatsImage_1be205394ef7Health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group and big chipmaker Qualcomm are rolling out nationwide a wellness health benefit that links patients and their wearable devices to a plan that offers cash rewards for reaching health goals and specific outcomes.

UnitedHealthcare Motion is more than “throwing a Fitbit at people” to do “step competitions,” Qualcomm Life chief medical officer Dr. James Mault said in an interview. The partnership, announced at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, is the next phase of a nationwide trend to incorporate wearable devices into wellness offerings employers and health plans provide to their workers, hoping to motivate employees to participate in healthier lifestyles.

“A major national insurance company is saying, ‘Okay, we now have the basis to launch an entire national health plan that can take advantage of a unique wearable,’” Mault said of the Trio Tracker device that is customized to be part of the wellness program. “This is a cardiovascular prescription. What you are seeing in this announcement is the first breakthrough of wearables into this medical-grade arena.”

To be sure, it’s common for employers to offer a Fitbit or Jawbone device, but UnitedHealth and Qualcomm say their collaboration incorporates the device, home diagnostic tests into the vast claims database and medical-care provider network of the insurance giant to improve outcomes.

An enrollee in the program can earn $1.25 a day for walking 10,000 total steps, but there are also “frequency” measures that can earn someone $1.50 per day for doing an activity six times per day for “at least five minutes,” executives say. There are also “intensity” measures that earn enrollees $1.25 per day for walking 3,000 steps in 30 minutes.

“On any given day, a covered employee and their spouse can earn $4 a day,” said Steve Beecy, vice president at UnitedHealthcare. “Not everybody is going to achieve all those numbers every day, but we put the cost of the device and the incentives are in the insurance premium so they are paid for.”

In test markets across the country a dozen employers have bought the wellness program and more than 100,000 employees are using it. Employers can decide how they want to reward employees, but the primary program is tied to high-deductible health plans that enable employees to earn up to $1,460 per year if they meet certain goals.

Over time, UnitedHealth and Qualcomm hope to expand the partnership and the program to offer more benefits and related solutions for employers and other clients as part of Qualcomm Life’s 2net Mobile connectivity platform.

Qualcomm Life, the health unit of the chipmaker brings the “medical grade connectivity” to the partnership, assuring patient privacy and security that is in compliance with the federal HIPAA privacy rules. “They have chosen us because of that medical grade assurance and reliability,” Mault said.

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