New York health insurer Oscar to pay members who walk more

(Reuters) – Oscar Health Insurance, which sells health plans on Obamacare exchanges in New York and New Jersey, said it will pay members up to $240 per year in Inc gift cards for the thousands of steps they take each day.

The plan is the latest effort by venture-capital backed Oscar to distinguish itself in the individual insurance market, where it is rare to offer members incentives to improve their health. Employer-sponsored health plans regularly use incentives such as lower premiums or higher contributions as part of their “workplace wellness” programs.

Oscar made its debut in New York last year with the rollout of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and now has 17,000 members. The national healthcare law bars insurers in the individual market from discriminating against consumers on the basis of their relative health or age, and provides subsidies for low-income households to buy coverage.

Backed by leading technology investors, Oscar plans to expand into California in 2016.

This fall, it tried to encourage members to get flu shots by offering Amazon gift cards worth $20.

Now it says it will give 2015 members who sign up for the new walking program a wearable technology watch by Misfit. The watch will track a member’s steps and send the information to an Oscar software application that will track progress and set each day’s goals. The program also works with Apple Inc’s consumer health application, HealthKit.

Walking goals start out at around 2,000 steps and depending on the member’s exercise level, max out at about 10,000 steps, Oscar co-Chief Executive Officer Mario Schlosser said in a telephone interview.

The decision was based on different research showing that once a person begins to walk around 6,000 steps a day, there is a noticeable impact on health, he said.

Some members should see improved health early on, while other effects would take longer to materialize, he said.

“Nobody has to be in training to achieve the goal, but at the same time we want to stretch you a little more out of the daily routine and make you walk more than you normally would,” Schlosser added.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer. Editing by Andre Grenon)