Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C.

Insurers' rewards for tracking health goals comes with strings

It is much easier for others to track what we do and say in the digital age. Whether it is a GPS route to Bucks County or a parent monitoring her child's social media accounts, technology records it. Insurance carriers and employers are getting into the act by offering up to a $2,000 discount in healthcare premiums to employees who wear fitness tracking devices like Fitbit to document achieving certain health goals by measuring heart rate, sleep habits and blood pressure. Common goals include 10,000 steps a day.

The idea of encouraging exercise through a discount would seem to be a good use for this type of technology. Millions agree and embrace the concept, but others are not so sure. According to a recent story by NPR, critics question how documenting health goals lessens the chances of health care spending and fear that the data can be subverted to other purposes.

A blessing and a curse?

There are anecdotal examples that some who use Fitbit or other trackers lose weight. However, if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, there is concern that insurance carriers could theoretically use the information they gain from the tracker to deny coverage based on a medical condition the tracker identified.

Employees should be particularly careful if the amount of the discount they receive is at the higher end of the spectrum. Not only can the data gathering be invasive, carriers or those collecting the information can monetize it. For example, the tracking device's software used to interface with a computer could also alter the user's behavior by providing a link that makes it easy to get a virtual doctor's appointment, which may prevent someone from going the more expensive (to the carrier) but ultimately safer route of an in-person visit to a doctor's office or clinic.

Issue is still unfolding for coverage and claims

There are also legal ramifications of the Fitbit or technology that could potentially be used in litigation. According to one article, pacemakers, Fitbits or Alexa could testify against their users in a dispute over coverage. If it is not a legal issue, it is still a personal one:

  • How comfortable is a user with all this personal data being collected?
  • What happens if the collectors sell the data to someone else, as Facebook famously did?

Employers and employees here in Southeastern Pennsylvania need to tread carefully and consider their options before embracing this tracking technology for insurance purposes. Those concerned by these issues and their impact on a dispute involving a workplace illness or injury may want to speak with an attorney.

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