Atul Gawande to Lead Amazon/Berkshire/JPMorgan Health Partnership

Atul Gawande to Lead Amazon/Berkshire/JPMorgan Health Partnership

The joint venture launched earlier this year by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to explore new ways of lowering health care costs for their employees now has a dedicated leader. Dr. Atul Gawande, a renowned surgeon, medical researcher, and author of several highly regarded books on medicine who has also been a staff writer at the New Yorker for 20 years, will serve as CEO of the as-yet-unnamed organization, Fortune reported on Wednesday:

Gawande may come as an unexpected choice to lead this new health care company, whose aim is to decrease health care costs and improve outcomes for the approximately one million employees in the triumvirate’s workforce. He practices general and endocrine surgery at the renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and is a researcher and professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. …

Following the Amazon-JPM-Berkshire announcement, Gawande stated that he would continue his positions at Brigham and Women’s and Harvard and will keep writing for the New Yorker even as he takes the reins of the health venture on July 9. He will, however, step away from his role as executive director of Ariadne Labs—a company he founded that focuses on health care delivery with a global health-focused bent—to become its chairman.

Few other details are publicly known about the partnership, which was announced in January, sending ripples through the stock market as pharmacy benefit managers, health insurance companies, and biotechnology firms wondered what it would mean for them. The organization Gawande has been hired to lead is an independent nonprofit based in Boston, which is expected to focus on technological solutions, data sharing, and its participants’ bargaining power as large buyers in the health care marketplace. The organization may eventually partner with other companies along with Amazon, Berkshire, and JPMorgan.

Beyond that, however, the details remain sketchy, and experts have questioned whether these corporations will be able to realize their ambition of changing the health care landscape in the US. Other big-company partnerships have been formed to this end in recent years but have not achieved any notable breakthroughs yet, as health care costs continue to rise. Putting Gawande at the helm will further heighten expectations for this initiative, observers tell Cort Olsen at Employee Benefit News, but its success will depend largely on how the rest of its leadership team shapes up:

Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, says complementing his talent with strong business and operations people is critical to making this endeavor a success. … [Shandon Fowler, owner and principal of benefits and HR tech consulting firm Four8 Insights,] echoes Marcotte, saying he cannot imagine Gawande would have taken the job had he thought he was just giving Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorganChase a competitive advantage on their healthcare benefits.

“For all of his strengths, Gawande seems to have excelled mostly at being ‘the guy’ — surgeons and author/journalists are more frequently ‘talents’ than ‘managers,’” Fowler says. “My inclination is that the venture still needs a COO who’s as passionate and driven to stay the course through incredible industry resistance and counter-productive politics as Gawande is passionate about using data to make positive change.”