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The Buffett-Bezos-Dimon-Gawande insurance fail? A powerful policy lesson!

How Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway took on America’s health care system—and lost, Fortune, June 1, 2021, By Erika Fry

Was it a press release, or a declaration of war?

How else to explain the media and market frenzy that followed the announcement, issued on Jan. 30, 2018, that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase — three of the nation’s largest, most high-profile, and best-run companies, then with some $534 billion in revenues between them — were teaming up to take on the ever-more-expensive, ever-more-complex problem that is American health care.

To those who had toiled in the world of employer-sponsored health care for decades, trying but never really succeeding to come up with new ways to control costs and improve outcomes … the statement, from three powerful CEOs, was cause for celebration.

Five months in, the team announced another star would lead the venture: Atul Gawande, the surgeon and influential New Yorker writer whose clear-eyed analysis of America’s dysfunctional health care system had earned him the admiration of Barack Obama and Buffett. In March 2019, the venture finally got a name, Haven.

The project officially sputtered to an end earlier this year. Even with its star power, Haven couldn’t break the black box that is U.S. health care.

So, did Haven make a difference? Some argue the effort undermined progress by raising the obvious question: If they couldn’t do it, who can? In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of very large employers, 85% of top executives think government support will be necessary to control costs and provide coverage.

Gawande goes further and has recently argued that the employer-sponsored system can’t be fixed. Noting how many Americans lost their health insurance in a global pandemic, he said, “A job-based system is a broken system.”

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Comment by Don McCanne

I contend that the Haven health reform effort of Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon, along with Atul Gawande, was a spectacular success, as an experiment in health policy. They proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the private sector is incapable of fixing our highly dysfunctional health care financing system. The only model that has shown promise is a single payer Medicare for All system. But you cannot set that up as an employer-sponsored system; it will have to be a public system for all the people.