Fitbit Inc. (FIT) has been saying for months now that it’s transforming in a digital healthcare company, and on Tuesday it made inroads in that respect, announcing that its Fitbit Charge 2 device is now part of UnitedHealthcare Motion’s wellness program, which is powered by Qualcomm (QCOM) subsidiary Qualcomm Life.
UnitedHealthcare Motion is an employer-sponsored wearable-device wellness program. The news sent shares of Fitbit up 8.5% or $0.60 to $7.93 a share. Heading into 2017, Fitbit’s stock had been off more than 70%.
“This integration is a first of its kind for Fitbit and brings together market leaders in healthcare and technology to drive better health outcomes and cost savings for both consumers and employers,” said James Park, co-founder and CEO of Fitbit. “It’s a demonstration of Fitbit’s commitment to delivering innovative solutions that combine the power of technology with insights to help people take a more proactive role in their health and offer motivation to reach their goals.”
Fitbit Users Can Get Up to $1,500
With the program expansion, participants in the UnitedHealthcare Motion program that use a Fitbit Charge 2 can earn up to $1,500 in Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) credits per year. The companies pointed to a 2013 study that showed people who walk less than 2,000 steps per day may have annual medical costs of more than $10,000, while those who walk 8,000 or more steps per day may decrease those costs to as low as $3,000.
“Studies estimate that if a company can increase its active employee percentage from one third to two thirds, the total healthcare costs could be reduced significantly,” said Dr. Richard Migliori, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealth Group in the announcement. “By providing people with leading technology that is convenient and intuitive, we can enable more people to access UnitedHealthcare Motion and help them pursue their health goals.”
Pivotal Time for Wearables
Fitbit noted the integration of the Charge 2 in the Qualcomm Life 2net Platform is the next step in the wearable maker’s push to move beyond making fitness devices and into a health and fitness company. (See also: Fitbit: Lack of Innovation Hurting Growth Rate.)
For Fitbit the deal with UnitedHealth and Qualcomm comes at a pivotal time. With demand slackening for wearable fitness devices, Fitbit, and the rest of the industry, has to figure out how to grow. When Fitbit reported third-quarter results, it warned that sales growth in the fourth quarter, which includes the holiday season, would be lackluster. That sent shares down.
Inking deals with healthcare companies is a way to diversify and at the same time boost sales of its devices. In September, Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Aetna Inc. (AET) announced the latter will subsidize the device for some of its members and individual customers. In a press release, Aetna said that starting this fall it will make the Apple Watch available to “select large employers and individual customers” during open-enrollment season. (See also: Fitbit Snit: Aetna Subsidizes Apple Watch.)