Would you trade information about your daily workouts for discounted life insurance?
Wearable devices like Fitbit and Apple Watch have become almost ubiquitous in recent years as users look for easier and better ways to monitor their health.
Now life insurance companies want that data too.
Last month John Hancock announced that all of its life insurance policies will incorporate the company’s Vitality Program.
Under this program, customers can earn points by exercising regularly, purchasing nutritious foods, getting annual health screenings, and completing other activities.
To earn points for exercise, customers must share their gym records or data generated by a wearable activity tracker with the insurance company.
For example, customers can use an Apple Watch or Fitbit Choice wristband to track and share the number of steps they walk or the meters they swim each day.
After transferring that data to John Hancock, customers can use the points they earn to access reduced life insurance premiums or other rewards.
John Hancock hopes these incentives will promote healthy behavior and help customers lead longer lives. In turn, this could increase the company’s profits.
Some health insurance providers, such as UnitedHealthcare, have also implemented interactive policies that incorporate the use of activity trackers and fitness targets.
Although research findings have been mixed, some evidence suggests that wearable activity trackers can help people establish healthier habits and meet their fitness goals.
For example, several studies have found that using activity trackers in combination with other behavioral change techniques can promote regular physical activity and weight loss.
However, some people might be reluctant or unable to use these devices to log and share information about day-to-day activities and health.
“I love the idea of interactive life insurance policies. I think it’s a great way to incentivize positive health behaviors and can be a great way to engage employers in a dialog about workplace wellness,” Gina Besenyi, MPH, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at Kansas State University, told Healthline.
“That being said, not everyone may be convinced with this approach,” she added.
Some people might not be able to afford activity trackers, Besenyi explained. Some might lack access to the smartphones or computers needed to manage activity tracker data. Some might find the trackers too uncomfortable or unfashionable to wear.
People may also have privacy concerns about how their personal data is collected, stored, and used, Besenyi added.
Bensenyi recently conducted an examination of cybersecurity and privacy concerns among users of Fitbit devices.
“Although our sample size was small, participants shared mixed views about sharing activity tracker data,” she said. “Most were very comfortable sharing data for the purposes of health research or with peers for social support or competition. However, the idea of sharing data with employers or insurance companies for the purposes of incentives or lower premiums was less well received.”
Experts in the field of health information and data privacy have also raised concerns about the storage and use of data generated by activity trackers.
Unlike official medical records, most data generated by these trackers isn’t covered by privacy rules established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
As a result, some of the data that customers share with activity tracker or health insurance companies might be used or sold in ways they don’t anticipate.
“Information that seems innocuous can actually reveal a lot about your health,” Dr. Andrew Boyd, an associate professor of biomedical and health information sciences at The University of Illinois at Chicago, told Healthline.
“So one needs to be aware of how they plan to use it,” he said, “as well as how they plan to share the data with others externally.”
If a company goes bankrupt, he warned, it might sell customers’ activity tracker data to advertisers or other parties.
While the federal government has protections for people with preexisting health conditions under the Affordable Care Act, if those protections are repealed there’s potential that wearable data could be a liability.
If those protections for preexisting conditions are repealed, Boyd said it could affect how this data is used. For instance, some health insurance companies might raise rates or deny coverage to certain people, based on their activity tracker metrics.
“This is promising technology. If the goal is truly to improve your health, and you agree with your doctor or your insurance company that this is improving your health, great,” Boyd said.
Boyd said consumers should think carefully about giving this data to life insurance companies.
“But if your goal is to get cheaper insurance or to get the insurance companies to feel more comfortable about the risk,” he continued, “think twice because once the data is collected, once it’s stored, you can’t necessarily guarantee and they can’t promise you what they’re going to do with it in five or ten years.”
To help alleviate some of these concerns, Besenyi suggested it’s important to give customers a significant degree of control over the types of data they share and for how long.
“I also think that insurance companies should be transparent in their access and use of fitness data at individual, employer, and population levels,” she added.