The advent of biosensors in hearing aids might be a harbinger of how medical device and consumer electronic companies have similar long-terms goals: Both are beginning to address the changing demands of the aging population by adding bio-tracking to their devices. Not only are hearing aid manufacturers, like Starkey, getting in on the act by placing bio-monitoring in their high-end models, but it was announced recently that Apple has been in talks with at least three private Medicare plans about subsidizing their Apple Watch for people over 65 to use as a health tracker.
According to a January 16 CNBC Tech Report, several Medicare Advantage insurers are exploring ways to subsidize the cost of the device for those who can’t afford the $279 price tag, the cost of the most basic Apple Watch. The latest version of the Apple device, however, which includes the most extensive health features including fall detection and an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s rhythm, retails for a minimum of $399, which many seniors could benefit from but can’t afford.
Apple Eyes Senior Market
Health experts say that seniors are an ideal market for the Apple Watch, which has introduced features that can be used by anyone, but are most beneficial to seniors, including fall detection and cardiac arrhythmia monitoring. It also makes sense as a business model for insurers, the experts say, as seniors are a particularly large and potentially lucrative market.
The latest Apple Watch now includes an electrocardiogram, which is designed to pick up on atrial fibrillation, a condition that impacts far more people over the age of 65 than their younger counterparts and puts them at a higher risk for stroke and other potentially fatal health conditions.
While the Apple Watch and other biosensors now hitting the market don’t diagnose disease or replace a doctor, they are considered “intelligent health guardians” that could lower the cost of care for those who use them.
Today about 19 million adults aged 65 and older, and growing, are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, which are private health plans that receive government payouts for providing services to seniors — about $10,000 per member, on average. It is also noteworthy that hearing aids are fast becoming a key benefit for these Medicare Advantage programs, as industry experts predict the number of individuals utilizing their Medicare Advantage hearing aid benefit to nearly double within the next three to five years.
Additionally, consulting firm PwC, the brand name for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, expects the entire Medicare Advantage market to generate more than $350 billion in annual revenue by 2020.
Apple’s health team is also looking to work with other large insurers outside of Medicare. Apple signed a deal with Aetna in August of last year, and in November 2018, Apple teamed with United Healthcare for a program that rewards those who walk at least 10,000 steps per day to subsidize the cost of an Apple Watch. Apple is also working with John Hancock, a leading life insurance company, to offer a steeply discounted watch to those who live healthy lifestyles.
According to the CNBC report, Apple is increasingly invested in bio-monitoring research, such as its heart study with Stanford University and its partnership with Zimmer Biomet to better understand through the Apple Watch how patients can more quickly recover from knee and hip replacement procedures.