Smartwatches collect an increasing amount of health data, which is attracting health insurers looking for ways to incentivize customers to get more exercise and maintain healthier lifestyles. That could save the insurers a lot of money—some of which they’re willing to share with customers, it seems.
Aetna, the giant health insurer, which is reportedly in talks to be acquired by CVS (CVS), has an enticing idea to attract Apple fans to the wearables market. The insurer will give away more than 500,000 Apple Watch devices to its customers next year, broadening a pilot program that gave the devices to its own employees started last year, CEO Mark Bertolini said on Tuesday, according to Axios. That’s just a fraction of Aetna’s 23 million members, but a potentially solid boost for Apple, which sold about 12 million of the watches last year, analysts say.
Aetna’s idea is that the special watches, which retail for $329 and up, will be loaded with apps co-developed by Aetna (AET) and Apple (AAPL) to fit into corporate wellness programs. Apps can remind users to take required medications on time or prompt them to refill prescriptions, for example. Bertolini didn’t say exactly when Aetna customers could apply for the free watches.
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“If we can make it work, it will be well worth it for us to give everybody an Apple Watch, but we’ve got to get the technology right,” Bertolini said at the annual Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif. this week.
Apple and Aetna held discussions earlier this year about getting the program off the ground, CNBC reported in August. The insurer’s effort is headed by Ben Wanamaker, hired away from Walmart’s health division.
Apple Watch competitor Fitbit (FIT) has also been looking to work with health insurers and offers health tracking wearables at much lower prices than Apple. Customers of UnitedHealthcare (UNH) using Fitbit’s $150 Fitbit Charge 2 can get credits worth up to $1,500 in a program developed by the companies this year.