With the market for wearable fitness trackers such as FitBit steadily growing, perhaps it’s no surprise that healthcare companies are creating programs specifically for consumers committed to using them.

In 2016 a United Healthcare study found 13 percent of the company’s members used a wearable fitness device; by spring 2017, that number had grown to 25 percent. Looking ahead, Forbes magazine estimatesthe wearable fitness market will be worth $34 billion by 2020.

Millions of fitness tracker enthusiasts use the device to track their daily steps, aiming for the goal of 8,000 to 10,000 steps each day, the amount associated with optimal health and disease prevention. That’s good news for insurance companies, as research shows those who walk 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day cost their healthcare provider significantly less.

In January 2017, Humana launched the Go365 program, incentivizing members with a points system that rewards them for performing a range of exercises and activities. The program was years in the making. Prior to launch, the company conducted a three-year study on their own employees’ engagement with Go365, finding it effective not only in keeping participants engaged, but also in lowering healthcare costs by 10 percent.

One downside: "For people who didn’t exercise a lot, they thought 10,000 steps a day was too high—a goal achieved only by marathon runners," says Stuart Slutzky, chief of product innovation for Humana Go365.

As a result the company moved to a more linear system, rewarding every 1,000 steps a day. Today the system rewards not just exercise, but an array of health-driven activities, from dentist visits and participating in a sports league to becoming CPR-certified.

Members accumulate points, which later can be redeemed for gift cards, merchandise such as Trek bikes, Fitbit and Garmin devices, even donations to charity.

"The points really keep me going," says Cheryl Yakan, a Go365 participant in Orlando, Florida. “I don’t have to personally keep track of my exercise to get rewards such as the Amazon gift cards I earned last year.”

Insurers Jump on the Fitness Bandwagon

Arek Adeoye
Arek Adeoye

Go365 isn’t the only health insurance company engaging and rewarding customers with health-minded challenges. Oscar and United both reward users with cold hard cash.

Every day that users meet a goal of their choosing, Oscar rewards them with $1, redeemable in the form of an Amazon gift card.

United Healthcare’s Motion program incentivizes users with up to $4 a day in earned rewards, for a total of up to $1,460 a year. Any monies accrued by the program are deposited into a health savings account to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, or funneled into a health reimbursement account.

United took their program a step further when it began rewarding users for three daily fitness goals: frequency, intensity and tenacity.

Frequency is how many times a user is getting up and moving throughout the day. "That was the big eye-opener for me," says Will Shanley, director of public relations for United Healthcare. “I would go for a run every day, but otherwise, I sat in front of my computer all day.”

Intensity asks users to walk 3,000 steps within 30 minutes, encouraging heart rates to rise. Lastly, tenacity rewards those who walk 10,000 steps a day.

Two main reasons for the success of these healthcare programs is that at least in part, they’re built around trendy fitness trackers, and walking is so attainable — it’s something anyone can do. In addition to lowering healthcare costs, insurance companies are gaining a slew of feel-good PR, as consumers may develop a more favorable view of a health insurance company if they feel it’s rewarding something they’re already doing. The trackers also help build community among those participating.

"We’re finding walking groups are forming in companies," Shanley says. “Instead of coworkers going to lunch together, they’re going for a walk. Plus, there’s a certain camaraderie that forms around competition.”

From building a sense of community to monetary incentives, these programs keep members engaged, benefiting both them and the healthcare companies who offer them.

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