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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

January 12, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Sweat to save money? Seattle startup EveryMove tests the idea

Can’t stand dealing with health-insurance companies? Yeah, neither can I.

But imagine this. Your monthly health-care premium is due, but instead of paying what you paid last month — too much, I’m sure — you save 5 percent because you went to the gym.

That’s the kind of scenario a Seattle startup called EveryMove wants to make a reality. Coming at a time when personal-tracking gadgets like the FitBit and Nike FuelBand are just beginning to sneak into the mainstream, EveryMove is rewarding healthy habits with real-life perks and a few bold promises.

The company may not be the first to wonder if health insurers or even employers would pay up to get you to shape up. But it’s among the first to check it out.

If they’re right, things could get interesting.

All this is possible thanks to gadgets. For the first time, many of us are able to measure what before we could only self-report — our daily physical activity. The Nike FuelBand on my wrist knows how far I walk or run. The FitBit my father-in-law straps to his clothes can tell not only how many steps he hikes, but how high he climbs. All he has to do is wear it.

Alone, the collected data can be fascinating. Even motivating. Shared with an institution that wants us to be healthy, it might pay other dividends. At least, that’s EveryMove’s bet.

It might be a while, though, before we know how far that can go.

EveryMove’s small set of users earns rewards by racking up points they get from physical activity they report manually or, more valuably, by syncing up a tracking device. An hour’s jog here, a half-hour of bicycling there, and they might have enough for a $5 Bartell’s gift card (550 points) or six beginner classes at Northwest CrossFit (2,175 points).

Where are the health-plan discounts? In development, says the company. If you happen to be covered by LifeWise Health Plan, a subsidiary of Premera Blue Cross, you can earn a $10 Amazon card funded by the insurer. More is likely. Premera Blue Cross, which serves 1.6 million people, partnered with EveryMove in 2011, before the company launched its service last year.

Another company with a footprint in the Northwest is hoping to be part of the reward layer on top of personal data. EarndIt, with its team spread between New York and Seattle, offers direct consumer rewards for activity. It has no plans to chase insurers, though CEO Andres Moran says it will look into an underserved segment of the employer market over the next year.

A couple of tough things need to happen for EveryMove’s big vision to take off. Personal activity trackers need to get more popular, for one. They’re getting lots of love from gadget geeks. “Fitness technology around self data tracking hit a fevered pitch this year at CES,” CEO Russell Benaroya emailed last week from the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

But they’re still new. More people ask me what’s on my wrist than ask how I like my FuelBand. “They are still at the point of, ‘What is this, exactly?’.” Benaroya wrote.

That’s one reason the company is giving away FitBits in its latest lure for new users — an invitation to form teams to tackle New Year’s fitness goals that’s been accepted by a couple of notable participants, including two-wheeled commuter Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

People also need to be ever more OK with something we’ve never been that OK with, though we find ourselves doing it more and more — handing over personal data. Sometimes we’re very active, sometimes we’re not active at all. Benaroya insists EveryMove would advocate for rewards, never punishments. But can we be sure insurers and other companies wouldn’t raise our premiums if we spend too much time on the couch?

As a neutral service negotiating for users, EveryMove might earn people’s trust in securing their data.

If it also figures out how to make an afternoon jog worth not just a gift card, but financial relief on something as essential as insurance, it might move this whole genre of technology one step away from fun and games, and one step closer to impact.

Know someone in the Northwest with a cool story, app or project around self-improvement tech? Email me at mguzman@seattletimes.com and check out my blog at seattletimes.com/monica-guzman. I’ll be featuring neat ideas from our region all month.

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