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As a business organizational Coronavirus Preparedness Plan is necessary step but how about your sponsored group healthcare plan? Does your your Insurance cover Coronavirus testing and treatment?
There has been a lot of news coverage recently about the Coronavirus: Type COVID-19 outbreak. You and your family may have questions about the outbreak and want to know how to stay healthy. For the latest information, please visit the New York State Department of Health,NJ, CTand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. You will find updates on this rapidly changing situation, plus prevention advice and instructions.
In most traditional group health plan arrangements, testing for COVID-19 should be coveredlike other diagnostic tests (e.g., the flu test or rapid strep test) when medically necessary. States like NY, CA, OR and Washington have issued requiring (among other things) insurance carriers to cover services associated with testing for the COVID-19 without cost-sharing. It is likely that other States will adapt similair rules shortly.
In light of the spread of COVID-19 and their goal of supporting the health and well-being of their members, the following resources are now available for members in all markets and all group sizes.
March 25, 2020- NY “Emergency COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave”How is COVID-19 quarantine defined under the NY law? Under what circumstances does a quarantine qualify for benefits under this act?“Emergency COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave” applies to employees who are ordered by the State of NY, Department of Health, a local Board of Health, or any other governmental entity to be under mandatory or precautionary quarantine/isolation due to COVID-19. More
1. For the next 90 days, Aetna will offer zero co-pay telemedicine visits for any reason.
Aetna is recommending members use telemedicine as their first line of defense in order to limit potential exposure in physician offices.
Cost sharing will be waived for all video visits through the CVS MinuteClinic app, Aetna-covered Teladoc offerings and in-network providers delivering synchronous virtual care (live video-conferencing).
Click on the links below for Teledoc Coronavirus Flyers.
Testing will be covered. During this public health crisis, AmeriHealth New Jersey will cover as a preventive service and waive cost sharing (such as co pays and coinsurance) for the COVID 19 test when performed at a hospital or an approved laboratory.
Telemedicine is available. To help reduce potential exposure, AmeriHealth New Jersey also encourages members to utilize telemedicine services if they are available as part of a member’s plan. To encourage use of these services, AmeriHealth New Jersey will waive member co pays where applicable for telemedicine visits for the next 90 days. To access telemedicine options, members should login to our member website at amerihealthnj.com.
Treatment will be covered. At this time, there is no specific antiviral treatment or vaccine for COVID 19. Members should receive care from their doctor to help relieve symptoms as they would other viral respiratory infections. AmeriHealth New Jersey continues to cover medically necessary health care costs to treat infectious diseases, including COVID 19, based on the terms of the member’s insurance plan.
Prescriptions can be filled. AmeriHealth New Jersey has lifted prescription refill restrictions on maintenance medications, such as the “refill too soon” limit, for members in states that have declared a state of emergency because of the virus. We are carefully monitoring COVID 19 developments and will make adjustments to policies as appropriate. We recommend that members call the Pharmacy Services number on their ID cards as needed if they require additional medication refills due to a potential quarantine situation.
EmblemHealth has confirmed that telemedicine is available in all Small Group plans, including the HSA plans.
Cost sharing for telemedicine has been waived for HSA plans.
• Telemedicine: TELADOC EmblemHealth To reduce urgent care and emergency room visits during the outbreak as well as provide peace of mind, members can access their available telemedicine benefit by going to teladoc.com or call 800-TELA-DOC (800-835-2362).
• 24/7 Nurse Line: As always, EmblemHealth’s 24-Hour Nurse Line, is available and members can speak with an experienced, licensed nurse anytime. Members can call 877-444-7988 for confidential, one- on-one health counseling and accurate information to help make informed health care decisions.
• Benefits and cost-sharing: Cost-sharing as required by the state for testing, as well in-network cost-sharing for physician’s office visits, urgent care visits and emergency room visits associated with testing are being waived. EmblemHealth will not require preauthorization for COVID-19 testing.
• Provider assistance and tools: Ensuring affordability and keeping costs down is all our responsibility including our providers. We are working closely to ensure our providers have the latest information and tools to help in diagnostic practices and testing protocols.
• AdvantageCare Physicians access: ACPNY is prepared to receive people in need of care. Isolation rooms, screening protocols, and direct contact with testing centers, are in place to ensure proper care and the protection of our employees and patients. People should call their primary care physician before seeking care at a physical location.
Amid the growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the country, Anthem is eliminating the burden of additional costs for members in its affiliated health plans by providing coverage of the coronavirus screening test at no out-of-pocket cost.
Will my Empire benefits cover COVID-19 testing and care?
Don’t worry — if your in-network provider orders a coronavirus test, your Empire health plan will cover the cost for the test and the in-network provider care visit and you will not be subject to any cost sharing.
Empire is waiving these costs for all affiliated fully-insured, Individual, Medicaid and Medicare plans. For high deductible health plans your deductible will apply. For self-funded plans, check with your employer or call the number on your ID card.
HealthFirst COVID-19 Resource Page – Healthfirst is actively monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and is here to help you get access to the care you need. Continue to check this page as it will be updated as new information becomes available.
Will my Healthfirst benefits cover Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing and evaluation? Healthfirst is waiving co-pays for all diagnostic testing and evaluations related to coronavirus. This means that if your PCP or in-network provider orders a coronavirus test, your Healthfirst health plan will cover the cost for the test and the in-network provider visit related to the coronavirus evaluation. You will not be subject to any cost sharing for the test or the in-network provider visit.
Call your doctor if you develop a fever, have a cough, or have difficulty breathing. Let your doctor know if you’ve been in close contact with a person known to have Coronavirus (COVID-19), or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area where the coronavirus virus has spread. Be sure to carefully follow your doctors’ instructions.
You can also receive virtual care. The Healthfirst Teladoc (telehealth) service is available for eligible members* and is covered for coronavirus related services. If you think you may be infected, Teladoc doctors can answer questions about the disease, evaluate your risk, and advise you on next steps. The Teladoc clinical team is trained on the latest protocols for local and national notification, testing, and management of people under investigation for the coronavirus.
New Jersey’s largest health insurance provider, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, will cover all COVID-19 tests, the company announced in a press release.
Horizon said there would be a number of other coverage changes for their over 3.2 million members in relation to COVID-19, also known as coronavirus or the novel coronavirus. They include:
Effective Immediately, Horizon BCBSNJ is taking these steps:
Waiving prior authorizations for a visit to a primary care physician, urgent care center, or emergency room for evaluation of upper respiratory symptoms, fever, shortness of breath or other conditions that may represent COVID-19.
Waiving prior authorizations for diagnostic tests and for covered services that are medically necessary and consistent with CDC guidance if diagnosed with COVID-19.
Waiving prior authorization for lab studies or diagnostic testing required during an ER evaluation or inpatient hospital stay.
Waiver of Prior Authorization for diagnosis of COVID-19
We will cover, with no cost share to the member, the appropriate medically necessary diagnostic testing for COVID-19.
Horizon will cover the full cost of the COVID-19 test
Waive early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications (consistent with member’s benefit plan) and/or encourage members to use 90-day mail order benefit. Horizon will also ensure formulary flexibility if there are shortages or access issues and not hold patients liable for additional charges stemming from obtaining a non-preferred medication resulting from shortages or access issues.
Increased access to prescription medicationsAccess to Telehealth and Nurse Advice Hotlines
24/7 access to free telehealth services staffed by nurses trained to help patients who believe they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Members can also use these services for other ailments in order to avoid trips to the doctors office or urgent care facilities. Those service are available through the company’s free “Horizon Blue” app, the www.HorizonBlue.com online portal, or by phone at 1-888-624-3096. Members may also use those services to consult with a nurse about other health concerns and potentially avoid a visit to a physician office or urgent care facility.
Relaxation applies to covered services delivered by video or telephone from in-network and out-of-network health professionals.
Waiving member cost-sharing for covered services provided by an in-network health care professional for telemedicine visit.
Applies to all covered IN-NETWORK ONLY services delivered by telemedicine including those provided by primary care doctors, specialists, therapists, mental health and substance use treatment professionals, or urgent care doctors.
All fees associated with COVID-19 testing are waived for MVP members in Commercial fully insured plans, Medicare plans, Medicaid Managed Care, and Child Health Plus. The directive issued by DFS does not apply to self-funded plans, but MVP’s self-funded employer groups have the option to implement the waived cost-share. The same rules for New York will apply to Vermont Commercial members of MVP.
In response to the growing number of cases related to COVID-19 (colloquially known as the coronavirus), we want to let you know that Oscar is here to help keep your employees safe and informed as the situation progresses.
To support the health and safety of your clients, we are making the following resources available to Oscar members:
Waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. If your client’s doctor recommends they should be tested for COVID-19, they will not be charged for the lab test.
Continuing to offer $0 telemedicine services (Doctor on Call).* Telemedicine is a great option for people who think they could have COVID-19. Our telemedicine PCPs can recommend COVID-19 testing and direct your clients to the right place for testing.
An online COVID-19 resource center: hioscar.com/covid19. We created this webpage so Oscar members can stay up-to-date on the latest information and understand their care options.
As a reminder, Oscar members have access to our Doctor on Call service 24/7 and our Concierge team is prepared to support in any way. Your clients can call their Concierge team at 1-855-672-2755. They can also secure message Concierge or request a Doctor on Call consultation from their Oscar app or online account (hioscar.com/member) at any time.
As a commitment to our members and their communities, UnitedHealth Group has done the following:
Waived all COVID-19 diagnostic test cost-sharing for insured members.
Provided FREE access to Optum’s Emotional-Support Help Line at (866) 342-6892 (available 24 hours a day, seven days a week) for anyone dealing with stress or anxiety related to COVID-19.
Prepared and trained OptumCare clinicians across the country to support COVID-19 patients’ needs.
Coronaviruses are an extremely common cause of colds and other upper respiratory infections. The symptoms can include a cough, possibly with a fever and shortness of breath. There are some early reports of non-respiratory symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Many people recover within a few days. However, some people — especially the very young, elderly, or people who have a weakened immune system — may develop a more serious infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Should you worry about catching this virus?
Unless you’ve been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus — right now, this typically means a traveler from Wuhan, China who actually has the virus — you’re likely to be safe. In the US, for example, all five cases of the virus were recent travelers to Wuhan. The CDC maintains the risk is low to Americans, however, “we need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
How can I protect myself?
Much like prevention of the spread of any other infectious disease, basic hygiene principles are key to curbing the spread of this virus.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
SHRM Webcast: Coronavirus: Legal and Workplace Implications Thursday, March @ 2PM ET. Get the facts. Lead your organization’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Learn the proper steps to take to keep your workforce safe, implications of federal laws and more. You must be an active SHRM member to attend.
Please contact us for further information or if you need assistance creating a workable plan. The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. Millennium Medical Solutions Corp. does not offer legal or medical guidance. Those with legal or medical questions should seek appropriate assistance from a licensed professional.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we would like to remind brokers that ACH/EFT payments are a great way to avoid processing delays With many carriers now working remotely, it’s likely that live checks will be subject to delayed processing.
In honor of the end of football season, here is a a list of Top 10 Best Healthcare Apps of 2019. For those of you hitting the ground running on your New Years health resolutions will find these apps helpful ranging form habit trackers to meditation.
Strides Habit Tracker: Best Self-Care App to Track Important Daily Habits
What We Like
Strides works on all Apple devices, including the Apple Watch.
It tracks all of your goals and daily habits in one place, in checklist form.
What We Don’t Like
You need to add each of your goals and habits separately before you can start tracking.
Are you drinking enough water? What about getting enough sleep? The Strides Habit Tracker makes it easy to track those goals and habits you need to be your best self. After adding each of your individual goals and healthy habits, you’ll be able to see a daily checklist of tasks to keep you on target.
Strides will also send notifications on your device to remind you of your goals. You can also see your daily and long-term progress using the in-app charts. Strides is currently available for free for all iOS and watchOS devices, but for unlimited trackers, web syncing, and data protection, there’s Strides Plus for $29.99 per year.
MyFitnessPal: Best Self Motivation App for Tracking Fitness Goals
What We Like
Tracking your daily calorie count is easy with the built-in menu offering thousands of products to choose from.
What We Don’t Like
Isn’t completely ad free without purchasing the pro version.
If exercise and healthy eating habits are part of your personal self-care routine, then MyFitnessPal is an excellent app to have in your arsenal. You can count your daily calorie intake using the in-app menu, or track your exercise. MyFitnessPal keeps track of your weight, fitness, and more to help you reach your goals.
MyFitnessPal is available for both iOS and Android devices. It’s free to download and use, but to remove ads, you’ll need to upgrade to Premium for either $9.99 a month or $49.99 a year.
Grateful: A Gratitude Journal: Perfect Self-Care Journal for Showing Daily Gratitude
What We Like
The interface is easy to use and uncluttered.
The journal is prompt-based for easy recording.
What We Don’t Like
The free version only allows you to enter 15 entries.
Studies have shown that showing gratitude is a surefire way to improve your mental and emotional health. However, we’re often too busy to whip out a journal and pen. The Grateful gratitude journal is right on your phone, making it perfect for quick use. It offers daily prompts to help you record your thoughts and even allows you to take photos in the moment.
Grateful: A Gratitude Journal is free to download for iOS devices, but, to unlock unlimited journal entries, you’ll need to purchase the premium version for $4.99.
The quick conversations help you better understand your mood or situation.
You can see an overview of your various emotions over the course of time.
What We Don’t Like
The guided meditations can’t be accessed without going through the Youper Assistant.
Sometimes, you just need someone, or something, to talk to, right? The Youper AI Assistant helps you understand and record your emotions through in-app conversations. As you converse with Youper, the app will learn more about you and what makes you tick. Over time, you’ll be able to see what makes you feel certain emotions to help you better manage your emotional health.
Youper starts by asking you how you are. As you record your emotions and answer questions, Youper gives you options such as guided meditations and thought processing. Youper is free to download and use for both iOS and Android devices.
Day One Journal: Great Self-Care App for Journaling Your Way to Better Health
What We Like
You can use multiple journals for multiple things.
Day One allows you to write, take photos, and record moments all in one app.
What We Don’t Like
To use the multiple journal feature, you’ll need to upgrade.
Journaling is a vital habit, especially for self-care. The Day One Journal makes it easy by giving you everything you need in one app. Record your thoughts, ideas, goals, and aspirations with text or photos using the easy interface. Your data is also encrypted with end-to-end encryption inside of the app.
Take a few moments each day to record what makes you happy, what inspires you or what lights your fire using the Day One Journal. It’s free to download for both iOS and Android devices, but to unlock features such as multiple journals, you’ll need to purchase the premium version for $24.99 a year.
Pzizz: A Self Help App to Get Better and More Restful Sleep
What We Like
Separate settings for sleeping, napping, and focusing makes this app extremely easy to use.
What We Don’t Like
The subscription after the one-week free trial is pricey.
A critical part of self-care is ensuring you’re getting enough sleep. Pzizz helps you get the best sleep of your life thanks to in-app “dreamscapes,” or optimized mixes of music, voiceover, and sound effects. These dreamscapes change each night, helping to quiet your mind and wake up feeling refreshed.
This app also allows you to take power naps using the dreamscapes or focus on work using “focuscapes.” Hailed as a winning app by The Duke of York and J.K. Rowling, it’s known for causing blissful sleep.
Pzizz offers a free 7-day trial on both iOS and Android. However, after the trial, you can expect to pay $49.99 per year.
Daylio: A Self-Care App For Tracking Your Every Mood
What We Like
Daylio is a simple mood tracker that allows you to capture how you feel on a daily basis.
What We Don’t Like
The interface is a bit busy compared to other tracking apps on this list.
How do you feel in this very moment? Those who are focused on self-care often take note of their mood using a mood tracker. The Daylio mood tracking journal allows you to track your mood and what you’ve been up to with cute icons. You can also write journal entries each day to go with your moods.
Daylio is free to download for both iOS and Android devices, but for unlimited moods, a pin lock, advanced stats, and more, you’ll need to purchase the premium version for $5.99.
Aloe Bud: Your Companion for Tracking Your Self-Care Efforts
What We Like
The design of this app is by far the cutest and most original in this list.
What We Don’t Like
It’s not as user-friendly as the other apps in this list.
To make sure you’re taking ample time out of your day for self-care, Aloe Bud allows you to track your self-care methods. From hydrating to breathing to being around those you love, Aloe Bud ensures you do what makes you happy each and every day. Plus, the icons are enough to make you smile.
Aloe Bud is free to download for iOS. To download premium and custom reminders, you’ll need to purchase premium for $4.99.
Motivation Quotes: Best Self Motivation App to Stay Inspired Throughout the Day
What We Like
You can customize your own motivational quote themes.
Thousands of quotes in many different categories.
What We Don’t Like
The subscription price is hefty compared to other similar apps out there.
Everyone could use an ounce of extra motivation each day. The Motivation Quotes app delivers thousands of quotes from many different categories straight to your phone. You can change your theme, save the quotes for later, search based on how you’re feeling, and more.
Motivational Quotes is free to download for iOS and Android. However, to unlock all categories and complete access, you’ll need to purchase the premium version for either $35.99 annually or $59.99 for lifetime access.
Breathe+: Great Self Help App for Relaxing in Moments of Stress
What We Like
The visuals are totally relaxing, making it easy to breathe correctly to reduce stress.
What We Don’t Like
There are ads that pop-up randomly while you’re using the app.
Visualizing your breathing is a great way to relax in moments of stress. The Breathe+ app allows you to breathe with in-app visualizations, relaxing your mind and training your breath. You can create custom settings to breathe as long as you need. The visualizations are beautiful and calming to the eye.
Breathe+ is available for free on iOS, but to remove the in-app ads, you have to purchase premium for $1.99.
Immunizations are one of the top ten public health accomplishments of the twentieth century according to the CDCP (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
Talk with your health care provider, not just about childhood vaccines, but for adults also. This knowledge may help prevent illness and outbreaks due to vaccine preventable diseases. Vaccines are recommended throughout your lifetime. They are an important step in protecting against serious and sometimes deadly diseases.
Vaccines are proven to protect children from fourteen serious diseases before the age of two. Adolescence from cancer caused by certain types of HPV, young adults from meningitis and people of all ages from flu, as well as, the aging population from various illnesses.
New York State Immunization Requirements for School Entrance:Attendance1 Local States already requires specific vaccines for public school attendance. There is an assistance program offered, by the Pennsylvania department of health, to obtain vaccinations through federally funded “Vaccines for Children”, providing access to immunizations to low income, underinsured children through age 18. Uninsured children regardless of income are eligible for the Children’s health insurance program. Adults are encouraged also to review their immunizations with their physician, also checked with your individual insurance plan for coverage of adult immunizations, for the specific vaccines covered under your plan.
Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. To schedule your Employer day of wellness & flu vaccinations call us (855) 667-4621.
Employers incentivizing fitness by lowering lower insurance premiums in exchange for wearing fitness tracking bracelets. Bloomberg reports that BP Plc drive for occupational wellness offered an employee’s spouse the option “to wear a fitness-tracking bracelet from FitBit Inc. to earn points toward cheaper health insurance,” which is “an example of how companies, facing rising health expenses, are increasingly buying or subsidizing fitness-tracking devices to encourage employees and their dependents to be more fit.
” The article notes that UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH), Humana Inc. (HUM), Cigna Corp. (CI) and Highmark Inc. have developed similar programs, in which “consumers wear the device and the activity data is uploaded to an online system so it can be verified to give a person their reward.” The article notes, however, that “the moves also let employers and insurers gather more data about people’s lives, raising questions from privacy advocates,” one of whom notes that “when financial incentives are involved, Dixon said it forces employees’ hands and narrows the question of whether or not they should participate.”
Wear This Device So the Boss Knows You’re Losing Weight
To fight rising medical costs, oil company BP Plc (BP) last year offered Cory Slagle — a 260-pound former football lineman — an unusual way to trim $1,200 from his annual insurance bill.
One option was to wear a fitness-tracking bracelet from Fitbit Inc. to earn points toward cheaper health insurance. With the gadget, the 51-year-old walked more than 1 million steps over several months, wirelessly logging the activity on the device. Twelve months later, Slagle has added to his new exercise regimen by trading burgers for salads and soda for water, dropping 70 pounds (31.8 kilograms) and 10 pant sizes in the process.
“I can see my toes now,” said Slagle, a middle-school administrator whose wife, Kristi, works for BP in Houston. The company’s program, he said, is “pushing me to get off the couch and make the right decisions.”
Slagle’s wife is thrilled with his thinner frame — as is BP. His once-high blood pressure and cholesterol are now in a normal range, significantly lowering BP’s risk of covering treatments related to heart trouble or other medical problems.
Slagle’s experience is an example of how companies, facing rising health expenses, are increasingly buying or subsidizing fitness-tracking devices to encourage employees and their dependents to be more fit. The tactic may reduce corporate health-care costs by encouraging healthier lifestyles, even as companies must overcome a creepy factor and concerns from privacy advocates that employers are prying too deeply into workers’ personal lives.
Apart from BP, insurers includingUnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH),Humana Inc. (HUM), Cigna Corp. (CI) and Highmark Inc. have also created programs to integrate wearable gadgets into their policies. The aim is to get people more invested in taking care of themselves. Consumers wear the device and the activity data is uploaded to an online system so it can be verified to give a person their reward.
“What employers want is the person to take an active role in their health,” said Dee Brock, who has incorporated wearable devices into wellness programs for Pittsburgh-based HighMark.
The adoption of wearable devices by companies and insurers is increasing as spending on corporate wellness incentives has doubled to $594 per employee since 2009, according to a study by Fidelity Investments and National Business Group on Health. Technology is creating new forms of wellness programs to measure whether employees are making improvements, similar to a trend in the car-insurance industry where drivers who put a monitoring sensor on their vehicle can earn lower rates based on how well they are driving, instead of their driving history.
Yet the moves also let employers and insurers gather more data about people’s lives, raising questions from privacy advocates. Wearable gadgets are advancing beyond tracking steps, with sensors to monitor heart rates, glucose levels, body temperature and other functions.
“The focus on preventive health at the expense of privacy is dangerous,” said Pam Dixon, founder of the World Privacy Forum in San Diego, which focuses on health privacy issues. “Right now it’s tracking steps per day, and the reach isn’t that far with these devices, but in time it will be quite sophisticated.”
When financial incentives are involved, Dixon said it forces employees’ hands and narrows the question of whether or not they should participate. The gathering of health data also opens the door for people to eventually be charged more or less based on the information, she said.
These are among the ethical questions still to be addressed about the appropriateness of companies tracking the physical activity of employees, said Harry Wang, a researcher for Parks Associates who has been studying the market. With wearable devices, collecting more sensitive information is likely to bring tougher government oversight, he said.
“There will be high levels of privacy, security and compliance requirements,” Wang said. “There will be high expectations from consumers about how the data will be used.”
Companies and insurers said they protect the privacy of people using wearable gadgets, and comply with federal laws that prevent employers from seeing certain health information about employees without consent. The wearable programs are voluntary and often administered by third-party vendors like StayWell, which works with BP.
As part of the BP program, employees who use a Fitbit to log 1 million steps earn half of the 1,000 points needed each year to qualify for lower co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket health expenses. BP bought 25,000 Fitbit devices for North American employees, including those at refineries and drilling rigs. Points can also be earned by getting an annual physical, taking an online health class and other initiatives.
“We think the device is easy to use, gets people aware of how little they are walking and helps trigger people to get active,” said Karl Dalal, director of health and wellness benefits at BP. “BP doesn’t see any of the data except in the aggregate.”
The market for wearable devices is small — about 2 percent of the 1 billion smartphones shipped globally last year — so creating interest from employers and insurance companies is key to growth. Some 22 million fitness-tracking devices will be sold this year, and 66 million by 2018, with about a third coming from corporate-wellness programs, according to Parks Associates. The incentives an employer or insurance company can offer is a way to keep people using the gadget, instead of throwing it in a drawer once the novelty wears off.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the new national health-care law, companies can spend as much as 30 percent of annual insurance premiums on rewards for healthy behavior.
Technology companies are taking note. Apple Inc. (AAPL), which has new health-tracking software called HealthKit that will be released this year and is said to be developing its own wearable device, has talked with UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. insurer, and Humana, about its health initiatives, executives at the insurance providers said. The companies wouldn’t provide specifics about the conversations. Apple declined to comment.
Fitbit has a sales force dedicated to pitching employers and insurance companies, and touts software to make it easier to log the activity of workers, down to specific individuals if a company wants, said Amy McDonough, who coordinates deals for Fitbit with companies. Other makers of wearable devices, including Jawbone, Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and iHealth Lab Inc., have also targeted businesses.
Samsung leads the smart wearable-band market, according to a report today from Canalys. The researcher estimated the wearable band market grew almost eightfold in the first half of 2014 from a year ago.
Some employers are encouraging the use of wearables without the gadgets being tied to lower insurance rates. Houston Methodist, owner of a chain of hospitals in the Houston area, got about 6,000 Fitbits this year and is offering employees the chance to win $10,000 if they walk more steps than the company’s top executives. Fitbit said it also works with Time Warner Inc. (TWX) and Autodesk Inc. (ADSK)
“Walking alone isn’t going to beat diabetes, but it’s certainly going to help,” said Marc Boom, chief executive officer of Houston Methodist. “Being more active results in better health. That’s indisputable.”
At Scotty’s Brewhouse in Indianapolis, where the $15 “Big Ass Brewhouse Burger” includes four quarter-pound beef patties and American cheese, owner Scott Wise offers an extra day of vacation for managers at his 11 restaurants who use a Jawbone UP device to log an average of 10,000 steps a day for three months. That has some managers like Brian Winnie exercising more to earn time off for a trip he wants to take to Memphis, Tennessee.
“Outside of work, I picked up riding my bike to add extra steps that way,” Winnie said in an interview.
Despite some early enthusiasm, many companies are waiting to see whether the use of wearables is a fitness fad. No major research has been done that shows the use of these devices leads to lower health-care costs and many employers want to know “if this is something that’s a passing trend or something that has staying power and can have proven results,” said Eric Herbek, who runs digital engagement for Cigna.
The gadgets have been worthwhile for Chris Barbin, CEO of Appirio Inc. in San Francisco. He said about 40 percent of his staff, which numbers around 1,000, participates in a voluntary fitness program that includes uploading their activity with Fitbit.
While health costs weren’t the priority for the program, Barbin said that by sharing the data with the company’s health care provider he negotiated $300,000 off his company’s roughly $5 million in annual insurance costs by showing his staff is getting healthier. He said privacy protections are in place for those who want to keep the data secret. The program has become one of the most popular forums on Appirio’s internal social network, he said.
“We had an initial batch of data about people who had lost weight, and people who had moved from high risk to moderate risk,” he said. “When we could show all that information to our insurer, that’s pretty powerful.”
Kristi Slagle, whose husband slimmed down through BP’s program, isn’t concerned about privacy with the gadgets. She said the program injects more fairness into the system because those who are healthier currently end up shouldering more costs for those who aren’t.
“I like that BP is making people more accountable,” she said.