imageA Switzerland-based health insurance company is piloting how members’ activity tracking could play a role in setting premiums.

The insurer, CSS, is one of the largest health insurance companies in the country and received a “most trusted general health insurance” brand award in 2015 from Reader’s Digest in Switzerland.

The company is conducting the pilot, called the MyStep project, with volunteers from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Unviersity of St. Gallen.

According to an article on the program published in the Swiss newspaper The Local, “the pilot aims to discover to what extend insured people are willing to disclose their personal data, and whether self-monitoring encourages them to be more active in everyday life.” The title of the article is, “Health insurers eye higher costs for the ‘lazy.’

imageThe head of technology at CSS, Volker Schmidt, is quoted as saying he expects the project would “reveal whether and how insurance companies can introduce an appropriate offer tailored to customers’ needs…Given the increased cost of healthcare, we will inevitably have to promote individual responsibility in order to strengthen solidarity between insured people.”

The newspaper points out that obesity in Switzerland costs the nation’s health service 8 bn francs a year, an increase from 2.7 billion francs in 2002.

The original article on the MyStep program, including quotes from Volker Schmidt, published in the Blick contains more details about the project (in German). The photo and wearables examples comes from the Blick column.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Although the MyStep pilot is a project conducted by a Swiss health insurance company, the findings will have implications for U.S. health plans and employers. In the U.S., we’re also battling high health care costs, spiralling up even more quickly than those in the Swiss healthcare system. Obesity, of course, is a major contributor to the chronic healthcare burden of noncommunicable disease in the U.S., along with disability costs and lost productivity for American companies.

U.S. business continues to look for ROI in wellness programs, which has been an elusive metric. At the same time, more U.S. employers are looking to wearable tech for both enterprise (employee engagement) and healthcare strategies (patient engagement). 

Strategies to promote employee health engagement are largely focused on “carrots,” positive incentives such as discounting health plan premiums for participating in wellness programs like taking a health risk appraisal, drawing blood to test for smoking, or managing blood pressure. Looming in the near future, employers will look to BMI, waist circumference, or other weight-management metrics which could be coupled with more “stick” than carrot — such as paying more for a health insurance premium. This is what’s being hinted at in the MyStep pilot, reading between the German and English lines of the stories. 

This is only the beginning of the growing role wearable tech will play in healthcare and employment.