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Health insurers eye higher costs for the 'lazy'

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Digital tools such as the Fitbit could be used to monitor customers' activity. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP
12:42 CEST+02:00
Swiss health insurers could demand higher premiums from customers who live sedentary lifestyles under plans to monitor people's health through wearable digital fitness devices.

CSS, one of Switzerland's biggest health insurers, said on Saturday it had received a “very positive” response so far to its pilot project, launched in July, which is monitoring its customers' daily movements.

The MyStep project, developed in conjunction with the University of St Gallen and the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, is using digital pedometers to track the number of steps taken by 2,000 volunteers until the end of the year, synchronizing that data with an online portal on the CSS website.

The project, the first of its kind in Europe by an insurer, “should reveal whether and how insurance companies can introduce an appropriate offer tailored to customers' needs,” Volker Schmidt, head of technology at CSS, said in a statement.

The pilot also aims to discover to what extent insured people are willing to disclose their personal data, and whether self-monitoring encourages them to be more active in everyday life, pushing them to take 10,000 steps a day.

“So far the response has been very positive”, Schmidt told newspaper Blick on Saturday.

At the moment digital tools can only legally be used with those taking out supplementary insurance, but Schmidt feels such technology could also benefit Switzerland's compulsory basic insurance.

“Given the increased cost of healthcare, we will inevitably have to promote individual responsibility in order to strengthen solidarity between insured people,” he told the paper.

The implication is that people who refuse to be monitored will be subject to higher premiums, said Blick.

Peter Ohnemus of Dacadoo, a company specializing in collecting health data, agrees that digital tools could be useful to insurers and push people to take responsibility for their health.

“There's no solidarity if someone who does a lot of sports and takes care of their health has to pay the same high premiums as someone who smokes, drinks and drives and does not play sports,” he told Blick.

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Fitness wristbands such as Fitbit are just the beginning of a revolution in healthcare, believes Ohnemus.

“Eventually we will be implanted with a nano-chip which will constantly monitor us and transmit the data to a control centre,” he said.

Obesity in Switzerland now costs the health service eight billion francs a year, according to figures from the Federal Office of Public Health, rising from 2.7 billion in 2002.

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