Apple Adds Humana, UnitedHealth to HealthKit Discussions

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Apple continues to expand its circle of potential HealthKit partners with dialogs now happening with both Humana and UnitedHealth Group. Both companies are big-name health insurance providers, and the talks could mean Apple is hoping HealthKit will be part of the incentive programs carriers offer for subscribers who actively work to stay healthy.

Apple's HealthKit could get insurance company supportHealthKit is a feature in the soon-to-ship iOS 8 for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch designed to make it easier for users to collect personal health and fitness data from tracking devices and share the information they choose with healthcare providers. Assuming insurance providers are interested in collecting fitness data from subscribers, that could include the number of steps walked each day or week, heart rate, weight, and more.

Offering subscribers fitness-related incentives, such as discounted rates, isn't a new idea, and some companies have already started using devices from Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike and other device makers as a tool for tracking just how active their subscribers are. These programs help keep insurance costs down because subscribers tend to be healthier.

"Being more active results in better health. That's indisputable," Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom told Bloomberg.

There is, however, a downside because providers could potentially deny coverage based on fitness tracker data. If a subscriber fails to meet a minimum number of steps over a certain period of time, for example, their insurance provider could deem them a risk because they aren't active enough.

Apple's involvement in the healthcare system won't stop insurers from potentially abusing subscriber data, but it could help ensure the information they get is timely and as accurate as possible. HealthKit-compliant devices will feed the data they track back to user's iPhones and automatically transmit that information to insurance providers. That would cut out the possibility of data being miskeyed into insurance systems, and remove the possibility of anyone forgetting to submit information.

Apple is also talking with healthcare providers in hopes of getting them onboard with HealthKit. The Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente have already partnered with Apple, and talks are underway with Mount Sinai, Johns Hopkins, and the Cleveland Clinic.

While sharing data with insurers and health care providers is one of the features HealthKit offers, it isn't a requirement. HealthKit's ability to collect data from multiple devices means your iPhone can become your own personal health and fitness tracking center without passing on the information it gathers to anyone else.

HealthKit, along with its companion app Health, will be available as part of iOS 8 when it ships in the coming weeks. iOS 8 will be a free upgrade and will support the iPhone 4s or newer, the iPad 3 or newer, the iPad mini and Retina Display iPad mini, and the fifth generation iPod touch or newer.

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If Apple can get big-name health care providers and insurers on board with iOS 8's HealthKit, it could easily become the standard for health and fitness data collection and sharing -- and that translates to more iPhone and iPad sales.

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I don’t mind Apple sharing data with health care providers in the interest of medical research or improved care, but I object to sharing data with insurers or other care-denying bean-counters. Privacy is a big deal to this user, and to many others. Although there may be an option or setting to not share, Apple must assure me that there’s no back door through which my personal data might “leak.”


Wouldn’t it be pointless to provide this info to insurers in light of the Affordable Care Act? Insurance companies will not be able to deny care based on this info. Young healthy people are going to be paying more so that older and unhealthy people will be paying less. I don’t see any reason insurers would need to know how many steps, calories or any other data point a person tracks.


Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Service providers (hospitals, clinics, etc.) have their payment model adjusted to care more about outcomes and keeping patients well (at least not coming back too soon after a previous service), so they care about things that will (a) improve patient health and compliance with medications and instructions, and (b) alert doctors about a potential health issue before it gets to be critical and therefore expensive. Hospitals sometimes merge with insurers too, creating one ACO that is both provider and payor, therefore with extra incentive to keep costs as low as possible.

So, yes this matters even with the ACA.

The real question right now is will things like HealthKit actually help doctors monitor their patients in any meaningful way. An article I read recently pointed out that those wearing FitBits are usually the more fit (and affluent) people, so they aren’t the ones worth monitoring.

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