The ‘Vitality’ health app from Generali insurance hasn’t hit the market yet, but is already causing a storm.
The program is based on rewarding healthy behavior, explained a spokeswoman for the Italy-based global insurer. “People who use the app want to improve their health and can motivate themselves through bonuses and benefits,” she said.
The insurance company is working on the assumption that a fifth of the population is interested in this sort of product and that the market is growing all the time.
The app is due out in early 2016, and it is not clear yet what type of data it will collect. But already critics are raising their voices, including in Berlin where the Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection is alarmed. Officials worry that such innovations in the insurance industry could lead to ascribing health risks to individuals.
“We are examining quite critically whether there are elements that could ultimately lead to an erosion of solidarity in society, which is something we don’t want,” said Gerd Billen, a consumer advocate and state secretary in the ministry.
“Does someone who jogs from morning to evening, and makes his data available to the insurance company, get more favorable rates?” he asked.
This is the first time a member of the government has taken such a clear, public stance on the health app debate.
“This sort of discussion should not create a situation where someday the gathering of health data leads to a rise in insurance premiums.”
The consumer protection agency is caught in a dilemma. Consumers should be able to decide for themselves what personal information is passed on and processed. But the ministry maintains there must be guarantees, for example that individuals will receive the same treatment even if they opt out of sharing their data.
Increasing digitalization in the health industry should not lead to consumers feeling “compelled to hand over data,” say experts. “Those who decide against the release of data or use of apps must not be disadvantaged by higher insurance premiums.”
That is also the stance of independent health experts such as Volker Penter. “This sort of discussion should not create a situation where someday the gathering of health data leads to a rise in insurance premiums,” said Mr. Penter, a partner at the auditing firm KPMG, where he heads the health section.
He believes that gathering data on individuals adopting a healthy lifestyle would be more acceptable if there were a bonus for especially healthy behavior – such as a refund, lower insurance premiums or additional services.
For now, Germans in particular are skeptical of those kinds of offers. But that could change, say experts.
“Today we certainly don’t want transparent patients,” said Mr. Penter. “But it might be that in 10 years we won’t have a problem with it, as we release more and more data about ourselves.”
Medical lawyer Sebastian Vorberg says digitalization in the health industry cannot be stopped.
“We let sick people die because we protect data,” Mr Vorber said. “Many people have an unfounded fear. It is still possible to not participate or not agree to transferring your data. (For instance) you won’t be able to force someone to stand on the scales in order to monitor their Body Mass Index.”
Meantime, other insurers, like Axa, Ergo and Allianz are said to have no plans to launch a product like Generali’s Vitality app.
Kerstin Leitel covers the banking and insurance industries from Munich. Frank Dorst reports from Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau. Maike Telgheder is a health and pharma industry expert based in Frankfurt. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.