With an ambitious-sounding, if vaguely worded, announcement, three corporate giants—Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced Jan. 30 that they were launching an initiative to improve satisfaction and reduce costs for their companies’ employees.
The three companies’ announcement Wednesday morning opened thus: “Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) announced today that they are partnering on ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs. The three companies, which bring their scale and complementary expertise to this long-term effort, will pursue this objective through an independent company that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints. The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”
The announcement went on to say that “Tackling the enormous challenges of healthcare and harnessing its full benefits are among the greatest issues facing society today. By bringing together three of the world’s leading organizations into this new and innovative construct, the group hopes to draw on its combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach to these critical matters.”
And the announcement quoted the CEOs of all three corporations. “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”
“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”
And Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, stated that “Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare. The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans.”
Tuesday morning’s announcement added that “The effort announced today is in its early planning stages, with the initial formation of the company jointly spearheaded by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a Managing Director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a Senior Vice President at Amazon. The longer-term management team, headquarters location and key operational details will be communicated in due course. The partnership brings together three of the country’s most influential companies to try to improve a system that other companies have tried and failed to change: Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world; Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company led by the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett; and JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States by assets.”
Meanwhile, a report in Wednesday morning’s New York Times on this development, referring to this initiative, noted that “It also illustrates the rapid changes affecting the health care industry in the United States, where lines that have separated traditionally distinct sectors, like care provision and insurance, are increasingly blurred. CVS Health’s deal last month to buy the health insurer Aetna for about $69 billion is just one example of the shifts underway.”
In the story, the Times’ Nick Wingfield and Katie Thomas quoted Ed Kaplan, who negotiates health coverage on behalf of large employers as the national health practice leader for the Segal Group, as saying that “It could be big. Those are three big players, and I think if they get into health care insurance or the health care coverage space they are going to make a big impact.” “Mr. Kaplan said larger insurers were frustratingly inefficient when it came to fixing problems like people visiting the emergency room when they did not need to, or requiring a doctor’s visit for routine tasks like refilling a prescription,” the Times article added.
Though much remains to be known--including the precise contours of the new initiative--at least one healthcare association was prepared to salute the move. On Tuesday afternoon, the Charlotte-based Premier Inc. released a statement attributed to its CEO, Susan DeVore, stating that "Premier and its member healthcare providers are encouraged by the recent announcement of the unique partnership between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase & Co. to improve patient satisfaction and tackle the costs of care for their employees. Employers pay about a third of U.S. healthcare costs, and we strongly support the active engagement of these companies to help transform our healthcare system to one that rewards high-quality, cost-effective care as well as superior patient experience," DeVore said. "Premier, together with its members, has distinguished itself at consistently testing and scaling new models of care delivery. Moreover, our work with our members has achieved performance levels that are substantially higher than all others in the Medicare accountable care, bundled payment and value-based payment models. We look forward to working with this new organization to transform healthcare together."