What You Need to Know
- The data sources that power wellness programs can also pick up signs of infectious disease outbreaks.
- Changes in heart rates and step counts tend to show up before COVID-19 symptoms.
- Some of the same devices that record the heart rate data could also record blood oxygen levels.
John Hancock has a high-tech health incentive program that helps it encourage life insurance policyholders to take good care of themselves.
Today, the health information the program collects could, in theory, give John Hancock a kind of data window it could use to watch the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across the world.
John Hancock and Vitality USA, the companies behind the health incentive program, also have tools they might be able to use to try to protect consumers against the pandemic. Some employers with Vitality USA programs, for example, are sending the highest-risk people in the program blood oxygen level meters, to help them tell the difference between when it’s time to drink chicken soup and when it’s time to head to the hospital.
John Hancock is not yet actively using its version of the program, the John Hancock Vitality Program, to track the pandemic, and it’s not currently using the program to direct extra resources to high-risk insureds. But Brooks Tingle, CEO of John Hancock’s John Hancock Insurance unit, said in a recent interview that he’s happy his company has the Vitality program in place now.
“We’re finding it to be the right kind of solution for this time in history,” Tingle said. “COVID is kind of an interesting proof point.”
Tal Gilbert, CEO of Vitality USA, said his company and its clients can now use the data they’re collecting to get a unique perspective on COVID-19 risk factors, as well as to know whether the participating consumers are exercising regularly, buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the supermarket and getting their checkups.
One finding Vitality program managers have noticed: 65-year-olds who exercise four times per week have about the same level of COVID-19 mortality risk as 45-year-olds who exercise just once per week.
John Hancock probably operates world’s most widely publicized Vitality health incentive program.
Vitality USA is a Chicago-based arm of Discovery Ltd., a large life and health insurer based in Sandton, South Africa. Years ago, when Discovery operated in the United States under the name Destiny Health, it helped pioneer the ancestors of today’s health reimbursement arrangement programs. Later, it sold the personal health accounts business and focused on bringing the Vitality health incentive program to the United States.
Vitality USA powers health incentive programs at many U.S. companies in addition to John Hancock, including CVS Health’s Aetna unit, the Walgreens drug store chain, and large employers.
John Hancock is a 158-year-old, Boston-based life insurer and financial services company that’s now part of Manulife Financial Corp. of Toronto.
John Hancock once worked, alongside other life and health insurers, to fight tuberculosis, influenza and other communicable diseases.
The company began trying to fight obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease by offering its version of the Vitality program in 2015.
Today it offers two Vitality program tracks.
The basic track, John Hancock Vitality Go track, lets any consumer with John Hancock life insurance get access to personalized wellness tips and discounts on healthy foods and wellness-related equipment.
The other level, the Vitality Plus track, is aimed at John Hancock policyholders who take a more intensive approach to wellness. It provides a Fitbit or Amazon Halo wearable device for no out-of-pocket cost; lets a participant who meets strict wellness program standards reduce the out-of-pocket cost of an Apple Watch to as little as $25 plus tax; and lets participants who meet wellness program participation goals, and health goals, cut the cost of their John Hancock life insurance premiums by as much as 15%.
A guide aimed at agents gives an example of how one policy owner achieved “Gold status” and a high level of incentive program rewards.
The participant filled out an online health review; submitted normal blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and body mass index statistics from an annual physical; continued to refrain from using tobacco and completed a physical activity review.
To get an Apple Watch, a policyholder in the program pays $25 plus tax up front, then pays the rest of the bill in monthly installments over two years. If the participant exercises enough, the Vitality program can reduce the monthly payments to $0, according to John Hancock.
The company made the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE wearables available through the program in October 2020. The Series 6 model can measure a user’s blood oxygen level and conduct an electrocardiogram.
Program participants do use wearable devices to document exercise levels, by sending heart rate information to Vitality program managers.
The Impact on John Hancock, and Agents
Originally, John Hancock offered the Vitality program only to new policyholders but opened it up to all policyholders in 2018.
The policyholders who do participate tend to be more active people, and the Vitality program itself tends to make participants more active, Tingle said.
Because of those factors, the program participants take about twice as many steps per day as the non-participants, and are more likely get preventive screenings, he said.