Blue Cross Blue Shield to offer discounted Fitbits to members through new partnership

BCBS hopes the devices will help members meet their fitness goals. Studies show that might not happen. (Getty Images/bfk92)

Hoping "to help consumers create and maintain healthy habits," Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) is partnering with Fitbit to offer its 60 million members a special deal on the activity tracking devices, the insurance association announced on Tuesday.

BCBS is the latest insurer trying to incentivize members to be active through fitness devices. UnitedHealthcare partially covers Samsung and Garmin fitness trackers for its group members, and Oscar Health gave members Misfit devices for free. Last year, Aetna was in talks with Apple to make Apple Watches available to its members.

However, evidence that wearing an activity tracker will lead patients to improve their health is mixed.

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A study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that activity trackers do not encourage individuals to exercise more or produce notable health improvements. Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that wearables alone don't incentivize patients to lose weight. And yet another found that most patients would rather use a mobile app than a Fitbit-like device to monitor activity.

RELATED: Study shows wearables lack clinical impact, but researchers haven’t lost hope

Mark Talluto, vice president of strategy and analytics at BCBS Association, remains optimistic nevertheless.

"By receiving discounts on Fitbit devices, it will be easier for members to gain access to these fitness trackers, which in return will incentivize members to get and stay healthy," Talluto said in an e-mail when asked why the insurer decided to partner with Fitbit in despite recent research.

The Fitbits will be offered through Blue365, a "health and wellness discount program."

"Blue365 features weekly offers and long-running discounts from top national retailers and other vendors," Talluto explained. "Other available products and services include fitness gear, gym memberships, healthy eating options, stress management services, hearing aids, and vision and dental products."

A recent investigation by NPR and ProPublica revealed that insurance companies are using members' health data—including fitness device data—to determine premium prices. However, Talluto said BCBS companies will not use information on Fitbits bought through the Blue365 program to determine rates.