UnitedHealthcare ‘wearables’ wellness program offers up $1,460 annual benefit for 10,000 steps monitored on free fitness trackers _lowres

In this Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, photo, Brett Broviak, a manager of respiratory and sleep services at IU Health North Hospital, walks with his Fitbit fitness tracker on the hospital's campus in Carmel, Ind. Companies and insurers looking to reduce health-care costs are turning to incentives and may soon start rewarding you for wearing a fitness device that tracks your steps, heart rate and more. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

UnitedHealthcare and Qualcomm Inc. have launched a wellness program that will provide Louisiana workers with free wearable devices and allow them to earn up to $1,460 per year for meeting daily goals that include walking 10,000 steps.

The possible reward of $4 a day for employees is one of the largest by a health insurer.

“It really came down to analyzing where was that point where you saw meaningful behavior modification and looking at it from the standpoint of ‘How do you put yourself in a position where that is sustainable?’ ” said Steve Beecy, regional vice president for UnitedHealthcare.

Louisiana is one of a dozen states and the District of Columbia where UnitedHealthcare Motion is being offered.

UnitedHealthcare and Qualcomm hope to capitalize on the increasing popularity of fitness trackers and other wearables. Gross revenue for the segment were an estimated $2 billion in 2015, with roughly 20 percent of adults owning a wearable. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana offers members discounts on fitness trackers through its Blue365 Deals program. Humana offers rewards for members who track their fitness and reach certain goals.

UnitedHealthcare says more than 100,000 of its members nationwide have access to wearables through various programs.

Beecy said it’s too early to tell how many companies will adopt the Motion wellness program, but the early response has been good.

For now, the program will be limited to firms with 101 to 300 workers, and those workers must be enrolled in high-deductible plans.

Consumers will need help with their health at many different points in their lives, Beecy said. In Louisiana, and the rest of the country, there are concerns about rates of obesity and chronic illnesses. As technology like wearables evolves, there are enormous opportunities to impact gaps in care.

“It’s stunning when you think about what could be done,” he said.

The Motion program requires participants to do more than just walk 10,000 steps a day. Employees also have to meet intensity and frequency requirements.

Dr. James Mault, chief medical officer of Qualcomm Life Inc., said the program has more to do with frequency and effort than just the number of steps.

“You want to get people up and moving throughout the day,” Mault said.

Somebody who sits at a desk for 12 hours and doesn’t exercise until they get home could develop swelling in his lower legs, among other things, he said. The program offers incentives for doing at least five minutes of brisk activity several times a day and for 30 minutes of sustained activity.

Beecy said realistically, few people will earn everything they can every day.

“What you’re going to have is an opportunity to earn an awful lot,” he said.

The money earned is placed in a health reimbursement or health savings account.

Editor’s Note: This story was changed March 30, 2016, to correct the amount that wellness program participants can earn to $4 per day.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr