Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren
To describe emPower's core offering as “a FICO score for health” is both mostly accurate and slightly reductive. The description is accurate in that it gets at the gist of what emPower is attempting to calculate: a single figure that could serve as an indicator of sorts of responsible individual health-related behavior. It's reductive in that it grossly oversimplifies emPower's mission and the philosophy behind it.
“‘A FICO score for health' concerns me because the data that's used to calculate an individual's FICO score is owned and controlled by the banks,” Weidner explains. “Our score takes into account personal data, which we collect. So two big parts of our role are to convince people of the value of what we're doing—and that they'll be rewarded for the behaviors that will drive their scores into a certain range—and to serve as an intermediary between the insurance companies and the public.”
If the first thing that popped into your mind after reading that last sentence was the question, “Uh, privacy concerns?” you're not alone. “Advances in medicine have reduced the ‘bad luck' factor of contracting a disease, so many of the conditions people are dealing with are a result of bad behaviors,” he explains. “The part of the population that is leading a healthy lifestyle but is still feeling the pain of growing insurance costs doesn't like that they're basically subsidizing people with unhealthy behaviors.”
Weidner envisions emPower as the trusted entity that collects data from these people and crunches it into a single number for insurance companies. “You'd get rebates on your premiums based on maintaining a score in a certain range,” he continues. “What we expect to demonstrate over time is that people with higher scores will have lower claims data. The rewards will get more meaningful as we start to demonstrate what the potential long-term savings [to the healthcare system] will be.”
Will it work? Weidner anticipates that individuals with healthy lifestyles will be eager to cash in, so to speak. The challenge is that these individuals are in the minority; less healthy people are not as likely to see much upside in sharing their data. Still, Weidner is optimistic that the emPower philosophy will prevail.
“Chronic illnesses are driving healthcare costs,” he says. “Unless people start making changes to their lifestyles, all the efficiencies in the world are not going to bring those costs under control.”