Illustration for article titled Apple and Aetna Are Giving Away Apple Watches You Have to, Uh, Earn Back
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

Health insurance giant Aetna is teaming up with Apple to introduce a new wellness app, Attain. As part of the deal, participants get the option to “earn” a free Apple Watch Series 3 by engaging in healthy behaviors like exercising or sleeping better. The app also gives reminders to refill prescriptions, get vaccinations, and schedule doctor visits.


The Attain app is expected to launch in Spring 2019, and the program is open to anyone covered by Aetna. To participate, you can either have Aetna provide you with a Series 3 which you then “earn” by meeting certain goals over a 24-month period, or you can use an Apple Watch you already own. (You need to have an iPhone 5S or later and at least a Series 1 watch.)

According to Aetna, the app was borne from a 2016 collaboration with Apple, where 90 percent of participants reported health benefits from using an Apple Watch. This isn’t the first partnership between a health insurance company and a wearables maker—there are plenty of corporate wellness programs involving Fitbits, and last year UnitedHealthcare also offered “free” Apple Watches to its members who opted in to its “Motion” program. But Aetna’s program is a bit different in that it’s purporting to personalize fitness goals and health recommendations based on your data.


Basically, the Attain app will deliver daily and weekly activity goals based on a participant’s age, sex, and weight. So, you might get goals such as “Burn 250 active calories today” and achieving those goals will earn a certain number of points through activities such as daily step counts, but also walking, running, and other exercises including swimming and yoga. Those points can then be used to either pay off the Apple Watch Series 3, or if you already have an Apple Watch, be redeemed towards gift cards or donations to charity.

This may seem all well and good, but there are definitely a few considerations to keep in mind. Anyone looking to gamify their New Year’s Resolutions and get a free Apple Watch out of it at the same time should be wary. First off, it’s not really a “free” smartwatch you’re getting. Each month you either hit your goal towards paying off 1/24 of the Apple Watch’s cost... or you don’t. If you leave the program, either because you switch employers or health insurance providers, you will have to either pay the remaining cost of the Watch out of pocket, or through monthly installments. For example, if you only participate and meet your goals for a year, you’ll still have to pay half the watch’s cost. Aetna does say you can contact them in the event that certain life events, such as pregnancy or surgery, hinder your ability to participate. But there’s not a ton of information about what happens if you just continually miss the mark for other reasons.

Illustration for article titled Apple and Aetna Are Giving Away Apple Watches You Have to, Uh, Earn Back
Screenshot: Aetna

According to screenshots of the app posted on Aetna’s site, the service may also tempt you into using your points towards other things, such as an Amazon gift card or a donation to charity.


Data privacy is also a major concern, considering the whole selling point of Aetna’s Attain program is personalization. While Attain does get some kudos for being a straight-to-member program—as in it totally bypasses your employer—it’s still a lot of information to hand over to your health insurance company. In a statement, Aetna says all data collected is encrypted locally and in transit, and will be stored in compliance with HIPAA. Attain is a voluntary program, and you’ll have to give consent at each step regarding your data. Aetna also says no information collected will be used for underwriting, premium, or coverage decisions.

Still, that’s not to say your data and the overall outcome of this program won’t be used by health insurance companies in shaping future programs. And no matter the underlying intention of insurance- and employer-backed health initiatives, be it to benefit your health or their bottom lines, the jury is still out on whether they’re effective. If you choose to participate, just make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.



Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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