Google, Apple could face more scrutiny if they compete in health sector: Prudential CEO

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Mike Wells, chief executive of Prudential, a US-based insurance firm, said the tech giants Apple and Google have the platforms to compete in the health arena, but it would mean that they face much more regulatory scrutiny than they already do.

In recent years the global technology companies, with their iOS and Android smartphone operating systems reaching billions of people, have moved further into health.

Mr. Wells was speaking at the launch of the health app by Prudential, called Pulse, which allows people to take health tests, check symptoms, get video consultations with doctors, and view medical profiles in 10 Southeast Asian countries.

“As far as Apple and Google being competitors, they certainly have the platforms to do that,” said Mr. Wells and added that, “They don’t have the licenses yet to do that.”

Whether Apple and Google would want to move into selling insurance is an “interesting question,” according to Mr. Wells, who said it would depend on whether they wanted to operate on “more or less regulatory fronts.”

Initial steps

Neither firms have launched a dedicated health insurance product, but they have shown early signs that they are not afraid of entering the space.

Verily, Google’s health-focused sister business has been looking at health insurance for years. It has teams focused on medical research, diabetes care and a host of initiatives specific to the pandemic.

In August, Verily announced that a new subsidiary called Coefficient Insurance was being set up. The company, which focuses on a form of employer-sponsored insurance known as “stop-loss,” has obtained an undisclosed amount from the Swiss Re Group’s commercial insurance division.

Apple, meanwhile has announced agreements with insurers, such as Aetna, that let customers “earn off” the cost of an Apple Watch by staying healthy. It is also in talks for subsidizing the expense of the device for elderly individuals with private Medicare plans.
Apple and Google, among other US tech companies, have come under heavy scrutiny from policymakers and regulators around the world in recent years.

Worldwide scrutiny

There are concerns that the companies have grown so large that their domination of the industry means that smaller firms cannot compete. For example, Google was fined $2.85 billion in 2017 by the European Commission for allegedly exploiting its power as a search engine and giving its own shopping service an unfair advantage. In order to escape the EU fine, Google has tweaked its platform, but other tech companies are appealing to regulatory decisions.

Mr. Wells said Prudential is “used to working in a very heavily-regulated environment, and for us, it’s a natural extension of our business models and we work closely with policymakers.”

But while some smaller tech firms might struggle to work alongside tough regulations, that’s not the case with Apple and Google, he said. “They’re very capable of dealing with regulation.”