Are employers about to reverse the nation’s alarming healthcare trends?

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We all know healthcare is often scary, and always confusing. But do we really understand what it’s like as an employer, aiming to do right by your employees and yes, your bottom line, in a system where you have no control over quality, outcomes or cost? As costs rise and health declines, it’s no surprise to see “activist investors” emerge among employers. JPMorgan Chase alone spent $1.25 billion on healthcare last year.

Indeed for Amazon, JPMC and Berkshire — each brilliant at understanding how cost figures into an equation — this must be maddening. Amazon has figured out how to “Prime” a pack of batteries to Tulsa, but it but can’t crack quality care at a predictable price.

Our nation’s healthcare journey is littered with failed attempts at innovation in employer-sponsored healthcare. From narrow networks to broad alliances, here we remain. Employees have high deductibles; employers have high costs.

However, when it comes to the alliance of Amazon, JPMC and Berkshire—which recently announced they would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees—we are optimistic that these companies may make a difference in reversing the nation’s alarming healthcare trends.

The alliance is less about centralized purchasing power, although a combined million-plus employees for the three corporations is not insignificant. This is about the collective might and motivation of these major players in the world’s economy. It’s about the vision and expertise they bring to an industry long ripe for disruption — both in how healthcare is delivered and how it’s paid for.

Amazon’s understanding of online retail could reshape how we engage with primary and pharmacy care. Berkshire’s expertise in risk could radically change how we underwrite healthcare. The three also have the passion, which can’t be overestimated as a success ingredient. JPMC under Jamie Dimon’s leadership has long been committed to improving employee healthcare —with success measured in lives saved.

We know that when the CEO takes a direct stand (and/or personally leads the charge) on employee welfare, better clinical and financial outcomes result.

These leaders are ringing the bell. Whether or not the approach ultimately works, it has and will elevate the discussion. While we can’t predict exactly their next move, we can bet that their competitors, industry incumbents and everyone in between have heard the alarm and will also make moves toward better care at lower costs — however they can.

Perhaps the greatest cause for optimism is the apparent humility with which the task at hand is being weighed.

As Bezos said, “The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty.” This will certainly help inoculate against the pain and frustration that’s certain to come as this venture takes shape.

It’s a daunting endeavor for sure. If healthcare was easy to fix, it would have been fixed already. But it seems the opportunity to mobilize the largest power brokers in this unique system of ours — the employers who sponsor healthcare for half of Americans — is finally upon us.

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