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Apple and Aetna held a series of secret discussions last week to bring Apple's health and fitness-tracking smartwatch to millions more people connected to Aetna, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The insurer, which covers 23 million, offers an Apple Watch to its 50,000 employees as part of its corporate wellness program. Now, Aetna is negotiating with Apple on a plan to offer a free or discounted Apple Watch, Apple's wearable device, as a perk to its members.
The invitation-only meetings took place in Southern California on Thursday and Friday, according to the people. Those in attendance included executives from Aetna and Apple, as well as hospital chief medical information officers across the country.
Apple's Myoung Cha, who has the title "special projects, health," led the discussions, said one of the people. The move by Aetna is part of its push to increase customer interest in a healthier lifestyle and a better tracking of diet, said one of the people.
The move could be a boon in sales for Apple Watch, which now offers health and fitness-tracking as its primary usage. Apple Watch recently overtook Fitbit as the top-selling wearable tracker, with shipments reaching 22 million for the first three months of 2017, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. The next version will reportedly have a new design and wireless connectivity, allowing it to connect to the internet without a nearby iPhone.
As CNBC previously reported, Apple is quietly developing new health sensors that would make its devices a "must have" for millions of people with chronic disease. It has a secret team working on adding continuous and noninvasive blood sugar monitoring to its hardware, which would be a game-changer for diabetics.
One of the people said Aetna's proposed timeline is slated for early next year.
Apple's rival Fitbit has sold its fitness trackers to companies for years in a bid to improve health outcomes and lower costs. Bloomberg initially reported that Aetna would be the first insurer to offer Apple Watch to its employees in 2016.
"This is a logical step for Apple's broader distribution of their watch, and this type of partnership has been on their radar from the beginning," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, an advisory firm that specializes in technology.
Apple and Aetna declined to comment.