Nearly eight months after setting the benefits world abuzz by partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan to create an independent healthcare company, Amazon is reportedly planning another volley against the traditional healthcare system: internal clinics for its employees.
The retail giant reportedly is in internal discussions to open primary care clinics for its employees in its main headquarters in Seattle, CNBC reported Thursday, citing two people familiar with the online retail giant.
Sources told the outlet that while the plan is in its early stages, the company plans to hire a small number of doctors to start a pilot clinic later this year for a select group of employees, and then expand it to more workers in early 2019. Amazon has roughly 40,000 employees in Seattle.
Amazon declined to comment to EBN.
Onsite and near-site health clinics are on an upward trajectory and have been an important focus for employers trying to help employees get the right care and move the bar on wellness.
“The move by Amazon to create and manage its own worksite health centers [makes it] part of a growing segment of employers who have decided to take control of the delivery of medical and other services to their covered populations,” says Larry Boress, executive director of the National Association of Worksite Health Centers. He says NAWHC research finds that 28%-35% of employers have taken this route, “while the vast majority are using third-party vendors.”
Amazon’s move echoes that of Apple, which also is working on setting up a network of health clinics for employees and their families at the company’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. In February, the tech giant quietly launched a website, acwellness.com, which included some detail about the initiative and a careers page listing positions it’s looking to fill, including primary care doctor, exercise coach, care navigator and a phlebotomist to administer onsite lab tests.
“Getting primary care right is increasingly a centerpiece to an employer’s broader health strategy,” says Mike Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, noting consistent, available care delivered in onsite clinics can help employees get treated not just for immediate health issues, but can “influence broader health opportunities” that will lead to better wellbeing.
Onsite clinics also have the potential to drive down costs. “Clinics can help optimize appropriate referrals and the usage of other services,” Thompson adds.
See also: 15 employee benefits on the rise
Amazon’s foray into employee health clinics is especially noteworthy as the company is working on a health venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan.
The three behemoths announced in January that they are creating an independent healthcare company for their U.S.-based employees and their families. The group recently tapped Atul Gawande — a surgeon and primary care advocate who regularly has spoken about the importance of “regular, ongoing care” — as its new CEO.
Amazon is among the employers leading the charge to take control of a healthcare system they see as wasteful and inefficient. A number of other employers have announced big benefits initiatives in the past year, from banding together — the National Business Group on Health announced last month its new initiative joining 20 major employers to work together to bolster employee engagement in benefits — to contracting directly with providers to deliver care.
For instance, GM this week inked a deal with Detroit-based hospital system Henry Ford Health System to provide a new direct-to-employer healthcare option to 24,000 of its salaried employees and their dependents in Southeast Michigan.
The agreement — which will require GM employees who choose the Henry Ford plan to get all of their healthcare and wellness services, including surgeries, through the Henry Ford Health System or face expensive out-of-network rates — is a strategy model being embraced by employers as they try to reduce employee healthcare costs and improve care by bypassing traditional insurers.
Employee medical expenditures have been the driving factor behind these big employer moves. Last year, premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage hit $18,764, up 3% from the previous year, with employees paying an average $5,714 toward the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Employers taking healthcare into their own hands is the most meaningful way we can change healthcare in this country,” says Bret Jackson, president of The Economic Alliance for Michigan, a member of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.
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