Aetna Will Subsidize Apple Watch in First U.S. Insurer Deal

  • Health insurer will offer the smartwatch to some customers
  • Agreement may help Apple boost disappointing watch sales

Aetna Inc. will give some customers and employees discounts on Apple Inc.’s smartwatch, offering the potential that incentives from the insurance industry could boost sales of the technology giant’s wearable device.

The health insurer, which covers about 23 million people in the U.S., is developing apps for Apple devices that will help consumers remember to take their medicines, get a refill on prescriptions, or contact a doctor. The applications, which will be available next year, will also help members understand their insurance benefits and use Apple’s Wallet feature to pay bills, Aetna said Tuesday in a statement with Apple.

Aetna said its almost 50,000 employees will be eligible for the watch at no cost. It will be up to employers that contract with Aetna to decide whether their workers get the watch, and how or if it’s subsidized, said Ethan Slavin, an Aetna spokesman. Slavin declined to give an estimate of how many non-Aetna employees might get the watch.

The tentative steps from Aetna could be a boon to Apple if they encourage policy holders and employees to be healthier, and prompt wider adoption of the practice by other insurers. While Apple is the market leader in smartwatches, the Cupertino, California-based company shipped an estimated 1.6 million watches in the three months through June compared with more than 40 million iPhones in the same period.

“The Watch is still screaming out for a use case, so if health-monitoring can be that, that’s useful, but it doesn’t tilt the company away from being the iPhone company,” said Colin Gillis, a New York-based BGC Partners analyst.

Fitbit Inc. has been selling its fitness tracking devices to companies for at least three years as a way for employees to reduce their insurance bills. While Discovery Ltd. in South Africa has offered clients Apple’s watch to encourage fitness, Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna said it’s the first major health-care firm to subsidize much of the device’s cost in the U.S.

Apple has expanded its efforts to sell its products to businesses in the past two years as iPhone revenue has stuttered, announcing partnerships with International Business Machines Corp., SAP SE and Cisco Systems Inc.

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