Fitness trackers like the Fitbit are popular among health-conscious users for a lot of reasons: you can track stats like how far you walk each day, your heart rate or even the quality of your sleep. But could that information be used to deny you health coverage one day?
At The Conversation, Andrew Boyd — a professor in biomedical and health information sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago — tackles the question in a piece. As Boyd writes, healthcare companies have increasingly offered cash promotions and discounts to users who provide their Fitbit data. For insurers, the move has clear logic: if more of your customers are healthy, there's less of a chance they'll need expensive treatments for conditions like high blood pressure down the road and that'll result in more savings for the company and consumer.
But Boyd notes that the abundance and availability of such data could also potentially hurt customers.
"With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare), insurance companies were barred from denying coverage to customers who had preexisting medical conditions at the time they signed up for insurance. If that rule is lifted by Republicans in Congress, insurers might look to wearable devices for evidence they could use to refuse to pay for patients’ health care," Boyd said.
"This development would have enormous consequences. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as many as half of all Americans have some sort of condition that could be used to exclude them from coverage, such as asthma, cancer or mental illness. Might insurance companies ask prospective customers for their Fitbit data, in addition to – or even in lieu of – a physical exam or laboratory tests? Could they set rates based on what those data show – or deny coverage entirely?"
While the long-term state of the Affordable Care Act is up in the air, the effect of wearable fitness trackers like Fitbits on health insurance remain to be seen. For early pilot programs that integrated Fitbit data, perks like free movie tickets and cash credit had inconsistent returns.
For Fitbit's part, its outlook on the wearable market is similarly hard to discern. The wearables market saw stagnant growth from consumers last year and Fitbit plans to make a clear pivot into the boutique smartwatch market. But with wearable demand expected to hit market highs by 2020 thanks to the medical industry, it doesn't mean that the market will live or die based on Fitbit alone. Next time you get an updated policy card from your insurance company, it might come with a wearable fitness tracker too?