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Can't afford an Apple Watch? Health insurer Aetna might pay for you

Aetna says it will subsidize employee Apple Watch purchases for participating companies.

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Aetna says it will create a suite of health-tracking apps for the Watch by early next year.

James Martin/CNET

Nobody needs a smartwatch the way they need a phone. It's a harder sell. But what if your health insurance company helped foot the bill? This fall, Aetna plans to help participating employers offer the Apple Watch at deep discounts for their employees. It would be the first major health company to do so.

Aetna said Tuesday it will create a whole suite of Apple-exclusive health-tracking apps for the Watch by early 2017, helping patients contact doctors, track their prescriptions and remember to take their medicine. The company provides health insurance for 23 million people in the United States.

Aetna said it's immediately working with employers on Apple Watch subsidy programs. While an Aetna spokesman couldn't tell CNET exactly how inexpensive an Apple Watch might be, he said employers should be able to offer an Apple Series 1 or Series 2 device "at low or no cost to employees."

To prove the point, Aetna's own 50,000 employees will each receive a free Apple Watch.

"Aetna's new initiatives will be a powerful force toward creating better customer experiences in health care, and we look forward to working with Aetna to make them successful," said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

It's not unusual for employers to subsidize gym memberships, and some subsidize activity trackers like the popular Fitbit as well. The idea is that if employees stay healthy, they won't need to use their health insurance as often. While the Apple Watch didn't wow the health care industry at its debut, perhaps where employers and insurance companies are concerned, today's Apple Watch will pay for itself.

Apple didn't immediately reply to a request for comment about whether it would be helping to subsidize these devices as well.