Surely there are better uses of Medicare dollars than Apple watches

  • Apple has been in talks with at least three private Medicare plans about subsidizing the Apple Watch for people over 65 to use as a health tracker.
  • Insurers are exploring ways to subsidize the cost of the device for those who can’t afford the $279 price tag.
  • It’s the segment of health insurance with the highest dollar revenue and margin per member
  • But can seniors really understand how to use the watch with updates?

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, wants Apple’s legacy to be its contribution to healthcare. It’s a lofty ambition, but with so many companies vying for a piece of the mobile health market, it’s going to take more than a watch that measures wearers heart rhythm.

In order for the Apple watch to be successful in healthcare Apple is going to need clinical proof that they provide better patient outcomes and they need to convince doctors that patients are better off wearing an Apple watch.

Then there is the “technical use” of the Apple watch. Can seniors really learn how to use and set up their watches? More importantly, can they remember to recharge them and update the software?

If Apple really wanted to “help” seniors, they would have developed a wearable device that was aimed at seniors with simple functions. I can only imagine the outrage if Medicare dollars were used to subsidize Apple watches at a time when the media is so focused on the costs of prescription drugs.

The hype around wearable health devices

According to The Economist “health- and life-insurance companies seem to think wearable devices can actually make users healthier. They are increasingly underwriting the cost of a range of wearables, including devices from Fitbit, Garmin and Polar. Aetna and UnitedHealthcare, two big American health insurers, recently created a plan that subsidised the cost of Apple’s pricey watch. Customers of other insurers willing to upload their movement data can obtain a discount on health or life insurance.

The Vitality Group started offering customers Apple Watches. The results of its study of 400,000 people were published recently, and are anything but gimmicky. Customers using the watch, along with incentives such as free coffee and cinema tickets, increased physical activity by 34% over two years. Overweight customers showed vastly larger gains. This represents a long-term shift in behavior and is a big deal for insurers and governments struggling with the rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes and lung disease that is driven partly by a lack of physical activity. The key to success, it appears, is to give the watch away free, but to make users pay larger premiums if they fail to meet activity goals.

The werable health market is hot right now but medical professionals need more proof, in a clincial setting, before they can recoomend these devices.