Amazon, Buffett, JPMorgan pick Gawande to lead health firm

June 20, 2018 by Tom Murphy
Amazon, Buffett, JPMorgan pick Gawande to lead health firm
In this Oct. 13, 2016, file photo, Dr. Atul Gawande, left, listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the White House Frontiers Conference at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway are turning to well-known author and Harvard professor Gawande to transform the health care they give their employees. The three corporate titans said Wednesday, June 20, 2018, that Gawande will lead an independent company that focuses on a mission they announced earlier this year: figure out ways to provide high-quality, affordable care. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Three corporate giants seeking to attack rising health care costs have turned to a Harvard professor who has written books about the system's many flaws.

Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway have named Dr. Atul Gawande CEO of a venture the companies announced earlier this year: an independent company focused on improving the care delivered to their employees while doing a better job of managing the expense.

Health care researchers have said any solutions produced by this new undertaking will spread well beyond the estimated 1 million workers the three companies employ in the United States. Businesses that provide employee health coverage are eager to find solutions for costs that have been squeezing their budgets for years.

Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has described health costs as a "hungry tapeworm on the American economy." And the leaders of the three companies see a lot they want to fix, even though they have said little yet about how that will be done.

"We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert's knowledge, a beginner's mind, and a long-term orientation," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement Wednesday. "(Gawande) embodies all three, and we're starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor."

JPMorgan Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon outlined several priorities for the new venture in an April letter to shareholders. He said it will look for ways to help employees make better choices for their care and give them the best options available. It will develop better wellness programs, particularly focused on obesity and smoking, which account for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and depression.

Dimon said the new company also will study why some costly and specialized medicines are often over- or under-utilized and the "extraordinary" amount of money spent on often unwanted care at the end of a patient's life.

Gawande wrote a 2014 book, "Being Mortal," that focused on aging and death. In it, he noted that people "live longer and better than at any time in history."

"But scientific advances have turned the process of aging and dying into medical experiences, matters to be managed by health care professionals," he wrote. "And we in the medical world have proved alarmingly unprepared for it."

Amazon, Buffett, JPMorgan pick Gawande to lead health firm
This combination of file photos from left shows Warren Buffett on Sept. 19, 2017, in New York, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, on Sept. 24, 2013, in Seattle and JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon on July 12, 2013, in New York. Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway are turning to well-known author and Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande to transform the health care they give their employees. The three corporate titans said Wednesday, June 20, 2018, that Gawande will lead an independent company that focuses on a mission they announced earlier this year: figure out ways to provide high-quality, affordable care. (AP Photos, File)

Gawande is surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at both Harvard's medical school and its school of public health. He said in a statement Wednesday that he has devoted his career in public health to building solutions for better care delivery, and that while the current system is broken, "better is possible."

Employer-sponsored insurance covers about 157 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's nearly half the total U.S. population and the biggest slice of the country's patchwork health insurance market.

Neither the companies that offer health coverage nor many of the employees that use it are happy with how the system currently works. Rising costs have pushed employers to hike deductibles and other costs for their workers. Companies are asking them to pay more of their care bills and to shop around for better deals. Many patients, especially the sickest, struggle with that.

Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire said in late January that the initial focus of their new company will be on technology that provides simplified, high-quality and transparent care "at a reasonable cost."

Amazon's participation and customer-first focus will be crucial, according to Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit that represents large employers.

He noted that employers already offer ways to help patients shop for care or see a doctor remotely through telemedicine. But people don't use this technology unless they need it, so they haven't grown comfortable with it.

That could change if they go through a well-known platform like Amazon, which could then reach into its vast trove of customer data to personalize the shopping, Marcotte said. If, for instance, you are a runner considering knee surgery, Amazon could lay out the best or common practices for your condition and maybe show that surgery isn't your only option.

"It's not only reaching people in the moment, it's the possibility to reach people with relevant personalized messaging that will engage them," Marcotte said.

Gawande starts his new role July 9. His company will be based in Boston.

Explore further: Amazon, Buffett and JPMorgan join forces on health care

Related Stories

Amazon, Buffett and JPMorgan join forces on health care

January 30, 2018
Three of corporate America's heaviest hitters—Amazon, Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase—sent a shudder through the health industry Tuesday when they announced plans to jointly create a company to provide their employees ...

Can 3 business titans cure the US health care system?

January 31, 2018
Can a legendary investor, the king of on-line retail and a Wall Street financier find a cure for what ails America's health care system?

Health care's Three Amigos? The big names behind a new push

January 31, 2018
Three guys walk into a bar. They're Warren Buffett, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon. They decide to transform the American health care system.

Employers turn to workers to help slow health cost growth

September 14, 2016
A growing number of U.S. workers are covered by health insurance that sticks them with a bigger share of the medical bill but also softens that blow by providing a special account to help with the expense.

Insurers get into care, but is it good for your health?

March 9, 2018
In the not-too-distant future, your health insurance, your prescription drugs and some of your treatment may come from the same company.

Report: Amazon checking accounts? Something similar could be coming soon

March 5, 2018
Love online shopping? Don't have a bank account?

Recommended for you

Tongue-in-cheek Nobels honor nutritional analysis of cannibalism, roller-coaster kidney stones treatment

September 14, 2018
A nutritional analysis of cannibalism and treating kidney stones on roller-coasters were research projects honored by tongue-in-cheek awards at Harvard University Thursday, designed to make you laugh first, and think later.

Pediatric robot patient offers new level of realism for doctors in training

September 10, 2018
A team of researchers and engineers at Gaumard Scientific has unveiled a new robot that raises the bar on medical training devices. The robot, called HAL, has been made to look like a five-year-old male patient and offers ...

Why men say they've had more lifetime sexual partners than women

July 25, 2018
The disparity between the number of sexual partners reported by men and women can largely be explained by a tendency among men to report extreme numbers of partners, and to estimate rather than count their lifetime total, ...

Censors jump into action as China's latest vaccine scandal ignites

July 22, 2018
Chinese censors on Sunday deleted articles and postings about the vaccine industry as an online outcry over the country's latest vaccine scandal intensified.

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...

Yes, you can put too much chlorine in a pool

June 2, 2018
(HealthDay)—Before you take a dip in the pool this summer, be sure there's not too much chlorine in the water.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.