Hickock Boardman Benefits

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Are we ready for Amazon to get into the Healthcare Business?

Ready to order your prescription with One Click?  How about ordering crutches?  Or setting an appointment using Alexa?  Or having a true electronic medical record that can be shared immediately with a specialist?  Or even having your course of treatment determined by an algorithm that predicts the best quality at the lowest cost with the highest probability of a positive outcome?  That could be the future of healthcare in the not so distant future.

Now that we’re past the news of Amazon, J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway announcing a joint venture on health care we’re starting to see what might come of this alliance.   The venture, recently named Haven, has hired its CEO, Atul Gawande, formerly a surgeon at Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston and a public health researcher and writer.  Amazon has purchased Pill Pack, a pharmacy distributor, sending pharmaceutical and pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) stocks tumbling.  And Haven has hired accomplished health care executives and data analysts to start working on projects with a mission to transform health care.  Disruption in healthcare is coming.

It’s no surprise that the healthcare industry (or industrial complex) is ripe for disruption.  It is a terribly inefficient “market.”  The only way the disruption is going to happen is from outside the current system where maintaining the status quo is so profitable for so many.  We’re not going to see large hospital systems or insurance companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers come up with truly innovative solutions.  Life is too good for them as it stands now.   They’re holding on.

Employers are trying to do what they can and are pushing back on PBMs, insurance carriers and providers, but they are really just nibbling at the edges.  They don’t have the leverage to change the system.  Even the largest employers have little leverage in the overall system and can only affect change on a small scale.

But company like Amazon?  Well, that’s a different story.  They know how to deliver to consumers.  They operate efficiently.  They constantly innovate.  And lest you think I’m an Amazon homer, I’m not.  I don’t necessarily agree with some of their business practices, but, yes, we need someone like Amazon to get into this healthcare business and disrupt the status quo for all employers and employees who currently contribute to the system.

If I were to guess, and they’ve kept things quiet, I think Haven is looking to eventually become a major player in healthcare, perhaps even looking to eliminate PBMs, insurance companies and even directly contracting with providers at some point.   Imagine that for a moment.  A better chance at positive outcomes at a lower price with more efficiency and a good consumer experience.

Now, I don’t think we want to cede complete control to Amazon and there is a role for government for both consumer protections and to guard against a monopolistic behemoth, but, and this is a big but, we need change and Amazon, through Haven, may be the one to change this.

I, for one, am ready for One Click options.