- Apple is in talks with at least three private Medicare plans about making Apple Watches available to seniors to monitor health and fitness, CNBC reports.
- According to sources familiar with the talks, the payers are seeking ways to subsidize the device's cost so that older patients on fixed or lower incomes can afford the device. An older Apple Watch model retails for $279, while the latest version with embedded electrocardiogram and fall detection features sells for $379.
- No deals have been reached, but Apple has paid visits to "several of the largest insurers in the market, as well as some smaller, venture-backed Medicare Advantage plans," CNBC notes.
Tapping into the Medicare market could be lucrative for Apple and a good business strategy for insurers, given the aging of the U.S. population and associated rise in healthcare costs.
Within that market, Medicare Advantage plans are an increasingly popular choice. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of seniors enrolled in MA plans grew by 8%, according to a recent MedPAC report, and current membership is estimated at around 19 million.
Starting this year, MA plans have more flexibility in offering nontraditional supplemental benefits such as in-home care, meals or digital tools to support health goals and outcomes, especially for those with chronic conditions.
The newest version of Apple Watch touts an FDA-approved EKG monitor to detect irregular heart rhythms that may suggest atrial fibrillation and alert users. Both that feature and the fall detection make Apple Watch an ideal device for seniors, and could reduce costly emergency room or doctor visits.
Apple is also exploring a role for Apple Watch in hip and knee replacement recovery via a partnership with Zimmer Biomet. The companies launched a clinical trial in October to test the effect of mymobility — an app that uses the Apple Watch to connect patients with their surgical care teams — on patient outcomes.
If Apple and any of the insurers reach a subsidy deal, it won't be the first time. Aetna agreed to cover a major portion of Apple Watch costs for select large employers and individual customers in 2016. The payer provided the device free to its own employees to promote healthy lifestyles and use of its wellness reimbursement program.
UnitedHealthcare incentivizes patients to walk 10,000 steps per day to help cover the cost of the watch.