Aetna scoops up rising star from Wal-Mart's health group to lead Apple Watch partnership

Key Points
  • Aetna has hired Ben Wanamaker from Wal-Mart's health division to lead its joint venture with Apple.
  • Apple and Aetna's partnership is focused on the Apple Watch.
  • Wanamaker the first reported hire dedicated to the venture.

Health insurer Aetna has hired Ben Wanamaker from Wal-Mart's health division to lead its joint venture with Apple, according to sources familiar with the matter.

At Wal-Mart, Wanamaker's role involved leading business development and strategy for the company's health, wellness and e-commerce businesses, with a focus on partnerships.

Wanamaker's LinkedIn page still lists Wanamaker as a current employee of Wal-Mart.

As CNBC reported last month, the Apple/Aetna venture is picking up steam. Representatives from both companies met earlier this month to discuss plans to provide free or discounted Apple smartwatches to Aetna's multimillion-strong member base.

That presents a big sales opportunity for Apple's smartwatch, especially if other major health insurers follow suit.

That partnership was first announced in the fall of 2016. At that time, Aetna said it would be the first health care company to subsidize the cost of Apple Watch via monthly payroll deductions.

Apple and Aetna's joint venture focuses on Apple Watch, which includes health and fitness as a primary use case. Apple Watch lets its users set workout goals, track steps and other metrics, as well as monitor their heart rate.

There's a big opportunity for Apple and other makers of fitness trackers to provide them to enterprises, not just consumers. HR departments across the country see opportunities to leverage activity trackers and smartwatches to improve their members' overall health. Payers, including self-insured employers and insurers, are looking for ways to boost wellness to prevent their members from getting costly conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

Wal-Mart's health care offerings include online tools for anyone to search for a health insurance plan or buy supplies for a medical cabinet. It also has a pharmacy business.

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

WATCH: Apple-Aetna hold secret meetings

Apple and Aetna hold secret meetings to bring the Apple Watch to millions of Aetna customers