Aetna-Apple talks center on costs, protecting patient data

Apple Watch
Apple and Aetna may team up to bring Apple Watches to enrollees, but privacy and cost concerns must be ironed out first.

Debate in a series of meetings between Aetna and Apple centered on protecting patient data and whether providing Apple Watches to enrollees is a cost-effective idea, according to a person present at the talks.

Mandi Bishop, a former health analyst at Dell who currently heads the startup Lifely Insights, told CNBC that Aetna leaders were concerned about vendors accessing patient data or, worse, patient data falling into criminal's hands. Apple's execs stressed that health data would not be shared without consent.

"Both companies wanted to make sure that we knew what data is shared and what isn't," she said.

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Many wearables today target patients who are already fairly healthy and want to monitor their fitness, but for a program like the one Aetna and Apple are discussing to benefit the insurer, it has to attract patients with chronic diseases, as well. Strategies to encourage these patients to participate were also a major part of the discussions, Bishop said.

Providers like Rush University Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare have found success in using these products for patients with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Aetna announced last year that it intended to incorporate Apple’s products into its wellness programs for beneficiaries, where it will subsidize a “significant portion” of the cost of the device for enrollees and fully cover it for its own 50,000 employees. It’s not alone in using Apple’s watches to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs.

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However, at the meeting, Aetna reps noted that many enrollees would want to get healthy alongside family members, and it was unclear whether Aetna would cover the smartwatches for an entire family, Bishop said.

Aetna and Apple declined to comment on the meetings to CNBC.