Apple is engaging in discussions with multiple private Medicare insurers about subsidizing the cost of the Apple Watch for at-risk people over 65 years old, according to a CNBC report.
This week’s report, from health tech reporter Christina Farr, noted, “The insurers are exploring ways to subsidize the cost of the device for those who can't afford the $279 price tag, which is the starting cost of an older model.”
The latest version of the Apple Watch—the Series 4—was launched in September, and as officials of the tech giant stated at the time, brings “advanced activity and communications features, along with revolutionary health capabilities, including a new accelerometer and gyroscope, which are able to detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using the new ECG app.” This version retails for at least $399.
According to the CNBC report, “Apple has paid a visit to several of the largest insurers in the market, as well as some smaller, venture-backed Medicare Advantage plans. The people declined to be named as the discussions are still private.”
The watch’s electrocardiogram function and fall detection capabilities particularly make it appealing and valuable for seniors; about 19 million seniors, and growing, are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, which are private health plans that receive government payouts for providing services to seniors—about $10,000 per member, on average, Farr’s report noted.
According to Apple, the new Series 4 Apple Watch intermittently analyzes heart rhythms in the background and sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm such as AFib is detected. It can also alert the user if the heart rate exceeds or falls below a specified threshold.
And, the Apple Watch’s fall detection function utilizes a next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope, which measures up to 32 g-forces, along with custom algorithms to identify when hard falls occur, the company has stated.
To this end, data from health technology company HealthMine shows that 21 percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries use a fitness/activity/steps tracker; and 70 percent currently use digital tools, with a blood pressure monitor being used by 50 percent of beneficiaries.
In this realm, Apple is working with other major insurers as well. It was recently announced that UnitedHealthcare Motion, an employer-sponsored wellness program, is telling its participants they can get a free Apple Watch if they meet the insurer’s daily walking goals over a six-month period. For this initiative, program participants can use the Apple Watch to see how they are tracking against the program’s three daily goals—frequency, intensity, and tenacity—helping integrate physical activity and engagement with their health plan.
Industry observers have already begun to offer some reaction to CNBC’s story. In Farr’s report, Bob Sheehy, the CEO of Bright Health, an insurance start-up with a Medicare Advantage plan, and the former CEO of United Healthcare, spoke to the idea of seniors potentially avoiding expensive care visits by leveraging the device. “Avoiding one emergency room visit would more than pay for the device," said Sheehy.