What Happens When the Private Sector Takes on Healthcare?

Irrespective of political alignment, most would agree that there is a leadership crisis in the world. As an antidote to this perceived lack of government guidance, citizens are looking more and more to private companies for support.

BAV ®, Y&R’s proprietary brand measurement data tool, recently quantified this trend, finding that 82% of people around the globe perceive a leadership crisis in the world and that 61% trust private companies more than government to take care of their needs.

Perhaps this is why on January 30th, when Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase announced a collaborative, not-for-profit effort to reform healthcare, I was unsurprised.

In the press release, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett wrote, “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy. 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…”

What is most striking about the announcement is the fact that not one of the three executives talk of “disrupting” healthcare. In fact, it is just the opposite. Healthcare doesn’t need to be disrupted. It needs to be reimagined. And Buffett sees the best way of doing so by collaborating with industry leaders who, like him, are looking for solutions—not disruption.

What unites these three companies is the simple refusal to accept the status quo of healthcare today. They do not believe that everything has been done to address the challenges of the healthcare industry. And they intend to pool their considerable resources together and give it their all to fix it. These leaders are not disruptors, they are dissidents.

And so far, I am optimistic.

This past week, Amazon took its first concrete steps towards a stake in big pharma and healthcare by acquiring PillPack, a billion dollar online pharma startup that delivers neatly compartmentalized pill packages to the chronically ill. With PillPack’s emphasis on accessibility and an easy-to-operate online interface, it is no wonder Bezos found the company attractive. After all, the focus of his collaborative venture with Buffet and Dimon is, “technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” Seems like a step in the right direction…and remember, most of the time, Bezos’ tech solutions are people first.

Further affirming my faith in this healthcare initiative was the recent announcement of their pick for CEO: Dr. Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is an accomplished surgeon, regular contributor to The New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard Medical School, yet his appointment surprised many since, as the New York Times reports, “he has little hands-on experience running a large health care organization.”

But according to Bezos, that is precisely the point:

“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…Atul embodies all three.”

I laud the decision of these three private sector leaders to look outside the box and appoint a medical practitioner and philosopher as CEO. The answer to fixing our country’s healthcare system is very much a cerebral, complex one, beyond a purely economic one. If the focus of healthcare remains on money rather than people, there is little hope in finding a viable solution.

Too many money-men, economists, and so-called healthcare experts have failed. Why not resist the usual and appoint somebody who understands the human side of healthcare? Listen:

In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith— J. William Fulbright

What do you think?

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