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Want cheaper insurance? You’ll have to wear a fitness tracker and send in your data

The life insurance company John Hancock announced plans to give customers discounts in exchange for sending in diet and fitness data using activity trackers for its plans. Some have raised privacy concerns.
The life insurance company John Hancock announced plans to give customers discounts in exchange for sending in diet and fitness data using activity trackers for its plans. Some have raised privacy concerns. psheehan@centredaily.com

Most people would jump at the chance to pay a little less for their insurance each month. But how much data would you be willing to hand over to get those lower rates?

The insurance giant John Hancock, along with other insurers, has experimented with offering discounts and incentives to customers who track their fitness and diet through devices like FitBits, Apple Watches or smartphones for a few years, Reuters reported.

But in September, the company announced it was doubling down and now only offers plans that include fitness tracking components, according to a news release from the company.

“We fundamentally believe life insurers should care about how long and well their customers live. With this decision, we are proud to become the only U.S. life insurance company to fully embrace behavioral-based wellness and leave the old way of doing business behind,” the company’s president and CEO Marianne Harrison said in a news release.

The program, called Vitality, has two options: One gives policyholders advice and resources to track their diet and activity, and offers rewards for brands when they reach health “milestones.” The other, which costs a monthly fee, would give policyholders as much as a 15 percent discount on their premiums each year and free or heavily discounted products, according to the company.

“There are a number of ways you can earn rewards throughout this program ... whether that’s getting a regular checkup or whether that’s eating healthy or reading news releases that we have in terms of how to eat nutritionally,” Harrison said, according to CNBC.

Customers don’t have to log their activities to get general coverage, according to Reuters. But if they don’t, they would effectively be paying more than those who do.

For some, the program has been beneficial. One 67-year-old policyholder, Carla Restid, said Vitality provided “a way to get going and keep going. I was exercising before, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. This set me on a life-changing program,” according to The New York Times.

Both policyholders and the company stand to benefit if customers are healthier for longer, because the company would pay out fewer death benefits. But on social media, some found it off-putting to allow an insurance company to track their fitness, and worried it could be a precursor to coverage denials.

The company assured users it would not use its policies to to hike prices on those who chose not to participate, according to Reuters. Harrison also said user data was secure, CNBC reported.

“We have been in business for over 150 years and we get a lot of very sensitive data — medical data, financial data — on a regular basis. So from a data perspective we are very careful, obviously, with what we do,” she told the station. “We are very clear in terms of how we use your data, and then you make the choice in terms of what you want to share or what you don’t want to share.”

Strava's online exercise-tracking map unwittingly reveals remote military outposts — and even the identities of soldiers based there. The situation shows how data collection can lead to unintended consequences.



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