It has been more than a year since the healthcare joint venture between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway was announced. Since then, we haven’t heard much — until now.
“We believe it is possible to deliver simplified, high-quality, and transparent health care at a reasonable cost,” they wrote. “We are focused on leveraging the power of data and technology to drive better incentives, a better patient experience, and a better system. Our work may take many forms, and solutions may take time to develop, but Haven is invested in making health care much better for all of us.”
That’s pretty broad, and vague, but earlier this month, 300 pages of unsealed court documents, including testimony from Haven’s chief operating officer Jack Stoddard, offered additional clues about Haven’s plans. Together, these developments give us the first real picture of how the company aims to fix some very big problems in healthcare.
On this new episode of GeekWire’s Health Tech podcast, we catch up with two Seattle-area health tech entrepreneurs, 98point6 CEO Robbie Cape and Wellpepper CEO Anne Weiler, to get their take on the joint venture’s ambitions.
Listen to their take on the joint venture in the podcast above and read on for a breakdown of what we know so far.
What’s the purpose of the venture?
From the beginning, the companies said they were frustrated with the system and wanted to improve employee satisfaction while cutting costs. That makes sense, given that they collectively spend around $4 billion across their employees and their families, about 1.2 million people.
That’s a huge chunk of change for business leaders like Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett to stomach. “Our employers are … incredibly allergic to market inefficiencies,” Stoddard said in court testimony, according to the newly unsealed transcripts, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal but haven’t been widely circulated in public.
What is the joint venture focusing on?
Haven will focus on access to primary care, simpler insurance benefits, and lowering prescription drugs prices. It is also looking at how to use data to improve the healthcare system overall.
- Data: Stoddard made it clear that collecting data is an early focus for the joint venture. It’s looking for areas where “prices don’t match value” and trying to separate waste from money well spent.
- Primary care: The venture wants to make primary care more accessible. “How do we make it easier for doctors to do good care and to spend more time, not less time? Because today they don’t get to spend enough time with patients,” said Stoddard.
- Health Insurance: Employees often don’t know what’s covered by their plan, so Haven wants to simplify insurance benefits. “One of the things we are looking at is, can we reinvent what insurance looks like in terms of benefit design?”
- Pharmacies: The company is looking for ways to make prescription drugs cheaper and to help its employees adhere to treatment.
Weiler said on the podcast that these areas are a natural fit. “There are synergies with the things each one of those businesses does — or the philosophies of the business.”
Who’s leading the company?
Here’s what Haven’s leadership looks like so far.
- Dr. Atul Gawande, CEO, is a well-known writer and thought leader in healthcare. He’s also a professor at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
- Jack Stoddard, COO, was a general manager for digital health at Comcast. He was also a founding member at Seattle-based health benefit startup Accolade and worked at Optum before it was acquired by UnitedHealth.
- Serkan Kutan, CTO, previously worked at medical appointment booking company Zocdoc. He was also a principal engineer of e-commerce at Amazon and spent more than a decade at Microsoft.
- Dana Gelb Safran, head of measurement, was formerly in charge of performance measurement at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Massachusetts.
- Michael Higgins, chief information security officer, was CISO at NBCUniversal and chief security officer at the New York Times.
- Megan McLean, chief of staff, held the same role at Ariadne Labs and was a career coach at Harvard Business School.
“When they named Atul Gawande as the CEO, that’s where I said, ‘Oh, this is a think tank,'” said Weiler. “But when they brought in Jack Stoddard, then I was like, ‘Okay, now they’ve got an operator with industry experience and with experience shipping products.'”
Haven also revealed the members of its board, which includes:
- Todd Combs, investment officer at Berkshire Hathaway
- Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase
- Beth Galetti, a senior vice president at Amazon
- Dr. Atul Gawande, CEO of Haven
Is the joint venture a customer or a competitor to big health companies?
The venture has tried to downplay fears that it will be a disruptive competitor.
“We’re fortunate that we have a million lives and three big employers. That doesn’t make us a competitor. That makes us a very informed customer,” Stoddard said in his testimony.
Optum isn’t buying it. Michael Weissel, an executive vice president at Optum, testified that he “fully expected” the venture to take products and services to market. “Anytime they sneeze, our stock catches a cold,” he said. “So the market is definitely paying attention and thinks that this is going to be impactful on us.”
Regardless of what the venture means for large companies, both Cape and Weiler said on the podcast that the venture was good news for health startups like theirs.
“The more innovation that’s happening in the industry, the more willing the major players are in the ecosystem … that is only goodness for young companies that are trying to be the tip of the spear of that innovation,” Cape said.
Will it sell anything?
Maybe. For now, Haven is focused on the employees and family members who receive healthcare through Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan. However, the website explained that “in time, we intend to share our innovations and solutions to help others.”
As Stoddard said in court, “If you come up with a great solution, why wouldn’t you make it available?”
Even without entering the marketplace, there’s still plenty of work to do. “Their job to have an impact on these north of a million employees will keep them very, very busy for quite some time,” said Cape.
What will the venture do in 2019?
Stoddard said the venture will spend this year doing tests through partnerships with other companies, which could potentially lead to lucrative deals for those who deliver.
The challenge will be figuring what to focus on.
“There are at least a hundred tests that they could run, and yet in 2019, if they’re amazingly successful, they’ll run five,” said Cape. “How are they going to choose?”
Despite these challenges, Haven isn’t backing down from its shoot-for-the-moon approach. “We will create new solutions and work to change systems, technologies, contracts, policy, and whatever else is in the way of better health care,” Gawande wrote in a letter last week on Haven’s website.
How can I read the transcripts?
You can find transcripts from both hearings below. The Jan. 31 hearing contains Jack Stoddard’s testimony starting on page 82, which is the source of much of the information in this article.