Insurance App

How to Insure Good Health

Just one more mile and I'll have enough app points for a new blender! Source: AP
Just one more mile and I'll have enough app points for a new blender!
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    An innovation that excites insurers sparks skepticism among data privacy advocates concerned that it could affect customer premiums and privacy.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The app will work with supermarkets, gyms and makers of fitness equipment to reward a healthy lifestyle.
    • One in three Germans is responsive to the idea of passing on health- and fitness-related data.
    • Critics worry that insurance firms will use the data to drive up some peoples’ premiums.
  • Audio

    Audio

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In the future, a typical conversation at a supermarket checkout counter if the plans of insurer Generali Germany come to fruition could go something like this: “Oh, you are buying the locally grown organic lettuce? Do you have a Vitality Card? You can earn 30 points for your health insurance.”

Generali intends to offer a health app for smartphones that rewards “health-conscious behavior.” The program, named “Vitality,” is slated to come on the market early next year, said Christoph Schmallenbach, Generali’s managing director, at a press conference in Cologne on Thursday.

The insurance company is seeking partners such as supermarkets, fitness studios and makers of fitness wristbands. Mr. Schmallenbach said a need exists to rethink approaches to insurance and respond to the needs of young customers — 40 percent of Germans ages 14 to 29 want an insurance that has functions like Facebook, Apple or Amazon.

And according to the market research agency YouGov, one in three Germans is responsive to the idea of measuring health- and fitness-related data and passing it on to an insurance company in order to reap financial rewards. The survey found that 41 percent have at least one health-related program installed on their smartphone and three-quarters of them actually use it.

More than half of those surveyed believe insurance programs of this sort offer a welcome possibility to save money. The findings are cited by the company’s headquarters in Cologne.

Sensitive health data enable insurers to create comprehensive health profiles and make predictions about a client’s future health prospects

“Healthy aging” is important for many people. “Many go to great effort — not all, but many,” Mr. Schmallenbach said. This behavior should be rewarded, he added.

But this rethinking within the insurance industry doesn’t meet with approval everywhere. Andrea Vosshoff, Germany’s commissioner for privacy protection and freedom of information, expressed skepticism when the plan was first made public last year. “Even if the advantages offered by this type of insurance rate sound appealing to momentarily healthy persons, they should nonetheless be aware of the risks that are included as well,” she said.

She pointed out that items such as physical information and fitness routines are sensitive health data that — together with already available information — enable insurers to create a comprehensive health profile and make predictions about a client’s future health prospects. Regardless of whether these forecasts are accurate or faulty, they can be used to tailor insurance rates to an individual’s specific profile and possibly to charge the client extra risk premiums, Ms. Vosshoff said.

Members of Germany’s The Left party also look askance at the project.

“The fear is that in the future, individuals applying for insurance could be rejected if they do not agree to cooperate with this data collection,” argued party representatives who submitted an inquiry to the German government.

But the Left party’s initiative was rejected. In a statement, the government said no such danger currently exists but officials intended to “carefully observe” any related developments.

Generali Germany, a subsidiary of the Italian insurer Generali, is attempting to ease such fears with the assurance that it won’t market a product that endangers privacy or violates the insurance community’s basic tenets. The company is considering what specific benefits would be offered for good eating habits and a healthy, active lifestyle.

The company said everyone should be given the opportunity to register for the program and collect benefits, which would be classified in the categories of bronze, silver and gold.

Despite the heated public debate, the German insurer is adhering to its plan, which is understandable in the context of the current state of the insurance business. Companies are being forced to rethink their orientation because low interest rates in the capital markets are putting increasing pressure on the sector.

In 2014, Generali Germany’s revenues from life insurance declined by 10 percent, and its annual net profit in all commercial sectors fell by almost 5 percent, to €422 million, or $459.2 million.

 

Kerstin Leitel is a Handelsblatt editor covering insurance and banks, Frank M. Drost is an editor specializing in the interface between banks and politics. To contact the authors: leitel@handelsblatt.com and drost@handelsblatt.com

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