What Changes Will Amazon Bring To Medicine?
Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos are both known for making huge business announcements, but the company’s most recent announcement regarding their employee healthcare sent insurance stocks plummeting.
Amazon has teamed up with both JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to create its own independent health care organization for Amazon employees. As of yet, there are no specific details regarding the deal, but it’s not hard to assume that Amazon’s latest move will have a tremendous impact on the future of health care for not only Amazon employees, but all Americans.
Amazon and its new partners are clearly not stopping just at providing healthcare for their own employees. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was recently quoted as saying that their new model could serve as a “template for all Americans.”
Bezos has also echoed Dimon, describing America’s very complex healthcare system, and discussing what a challenge it will be for Amazon and its two new business partners. Bezos said that the out-of-control and burgeoning health care costs were his prime motivator for starting the new venture. Partner Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway has described these healthcare costs as the “hungry tapeworm eating at the American economy.” Bezos says the goal is two-fold: improving healthcare for employees and families while at the same time reducing the cost burden on the American economy.
A problem as serious as the health care crisis needs a serious solution. On average, health care costs increase about five percent each year, much faster than inflation; this has been the trend over the last 30 years, and there is no relief in sight. Current figures show that the national average cost per employee for insurance is nearly $13,000.
Combined, the three companies in this new venture have 1.2 million employees, and that adds up to more than $15 billion in potential healthcare costs. It is no wonder they teamed up to change the face of healthcare. Buffett says the team doesn’t have all the answers for this formidable challenge, but they are also not willing to accept that it is inevitable that healthcare costs as they are currently structured are simply just part of the cost of doing business.
Most industry experts know that with the announcement, America’s future will include a major role being played by Amazon in the healthcare marketplace. What would it look like? Can Amazon bring its streamlining magic to the antiquated process we now have in America?
It has to be more than just the standard healthcare cooperative. Instead, this venture needs to be truly transformative, bringing Amazon’s penchant for innovation and disruption to truly transform healthcare as we know it today. All three companies bring tremendous resources, but only Amazon brings the technological know-how that is needed. With Amazon being the giant that it is today, most of us forget that Bezos started small and learned fast—very fast. If all the group did was bring its retail experiences and procedures to healthcare, it would be amazing. It is very likely he is “starting small” by providing healthcare to his own employees. They’ll work out the kinks, streamline it and bring it to the market—just like they do with literally every other venture they’ve tackled.
However, Amazon will likely bring much, much more. Amazon is a disruptor and many insiders in the healthcare industry have suspected that Amazon would figure out a way to disrupt their industry as well. When the company acquired Whole Foods recently it added fuel to the speculation, given that the Whole Foods would be an avenue by which Amazon could enter the pharmaceuticals industry, delivering medications, vitamins, nutrients and so much more in what would most assuredly be the world’s largest healthcare supply chain.
Experts at the Institute for Global Futures say that healthcare will be the biggest marketplace of the 21st and 22nd centuries. Amazon has already transformed the online marketplace, and will add pharmaceutical sales to that. The combination of Amazon’s data and analytics with sale of drugs will be huge.
Amazon gets it. People are living longer. Experts at Global Futures say that age 75 may soon one day be the new middle age. Amazon needs a solution beyond traditional pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine. In short, it is a whole distributed health care system, much like what Amazon has today.
What remains to be seen is how Amazon will tackle this looming issue. Will they start with cancer? Will they focus on the top one or two percent of patients who are very ill? Will they bring innovative diagnostics to the marketplace? Will they tackle chronic diseases? It will be interesting to see how they do it. No matter what they do, there are two very important things to keep in mind. Amazon does not necessarily need to make money on providing healthcare to its own employees. That is huge. The alliance of three companies has even already declared that they will not have profit incentives for the new venture. When companies aren’t incentivized by profit, patients can once again become the true healthcare customer. In the current American system, one thing is for certain—everyone but the patient is the customer.