The life insurance giant John Hancock made headlines last month with the announcement of a new approach to the policies it was offering customers. Reuters published a story stating that the company “will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones.” Many other outlets picked up on this story, though many apparently failed to read through the rest of the article. Writers cited “Big Brother” and raised the specter of corporate access to personal fitness and health data that could lead to all sorts of abuse.
While there are certainly reasons to be concerned about the security of any personal data, the story is somewhat less ominous than some outlets made it out to be. The punchline is that John Hancock has partnered with a company called Vitality that offers incentive programs to help people make behavioral changes. In this case, Hancock is hoping that by encouraging its customers to make healthier choices, the company will save money. Vitality policyholders have already chalked up nearly twice as many steps as the average American, logging more than three million healthy activities. Studies show that participants live 13 to 21 years longer than other policyholders and have 30% lower hospitalization costs. In fact, Hancock started offering Vitality benefits to policyholders in 2015.
The announcement signals that these benefits will be available to all Hancock life insurance policyholders going forward. And the announcement makes it clear that participation in the Vitality program is completely optional. There’s no penalty for not participating in the activity tracking. However, participants will get discounts for some shopping including fitness devices. Customers can also choose the Vitality PLUS program (available for free for some policies), which provides up to 15% savings on the policy annual premiums, steep discounts on fitness products, and broad discounts from retailers including Walmart, CVS, and Amazon.
The key take-away is that participation is optional. However, the program is likely to add to the bottom line for the insurance company which will lead to savings for their policyholders. In addition, the collected data could lead additional insights into healthy behaviors and outcomes, which could benefit people far beyond this specific program. It is also interesting to note that this is another data point supporting our market analysis; the fitness device sales are going to move from individual consumers to large corporations because the devices are going to save money for the companies.