Amazon and several other major companies have made numerous attempts to "disrupt" health care over the years without much success. But new acquisitions in primary care, home health care, and more may allow them to more successfully expand into the industry, David Wainer writes for the Wall Street Journal.
Competition heats up in the health care industry
According to Wainer, the United States spends a greater proportion of its economy on medical services than any other developed nation, making health care "too big of an opportunity to ignore" for many companies, including those in technology, retail, and more.
For example, Amazon has launched several forays into health care in recent years, although not all of them have been successful. Some of these health care efforts include its now defunct partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, as well as Amazon Care, the company's primary care service that will shut down at the end of the year.
Amazon has also acquired several smaller health care companies in an effort to expand its reach. In 2018, Amazon purchased PillPack for $1 billion as a way to expand its online pharmacy business. Similarly, Amazon in July reached an agreement to acquire One Medical, a primary care company, for roughly $3.9 billion.
Several other companies, including retailers like Walmart and Walgreens and large insurers like UnitedHealth Group* (UHG) and CVS Health's Aetna, are also looking to expand their health care offerings. In fact, CVS announced last week that it had purchased home health care company Signify Health for roughly $8 billion—beating out several other competitors.
So far, "[s]hifting social attitudes and market conditions have helped fuel the wave" of health care acquisitions from major companies, Wainer writes, and more are likely to occur going forward.
What companies are targeting in health care
In contrast to the more traditional fee-for-service model, many health care startups are moving toward value-based care, which encourages providers to help prevent illnesses, rather than just treat them.
According to Wainer, UHG, which includes a pharmacy benefit manager, an insurance business, and 60,000 physicians, has made the most progress transitioning to value-based care so far. For example, many of the multi-specialty physician practices UHG has purchased through its medical provider arm Optum Care focus on proactively providing patients home, virtual, and on-site care to help them stay out of the hospital.
In addition, UHG and Walmart last week announced a partnership to provide services and "improve the patient experience" for certain Medicare Advantage enrollees. Through the partnership, UHG will use analytics to help Walmart clinics deliver value-based care to patients.
Aside from value-based care, many companies, including Amazon and CVS, are looking to expand their businesses into primary care. Currently, there is a nationwide shortage of primary care doctors, which has led to worse health outcomes for many Americans.
By providing primary care services directly to consumers, Amazon and other companies are hoping to use the relationship between patients and their providers to sell even more services, such as prescription drug deliveries and more.
Overall, "staying healthy probably will never be the sort of frictionless, one-click experience that Amazon pioneered," Wainer writes, but the company's current involvement in the health care industry "is a testament to the fact that there's a lot of money to be made by fixing America's broken system." (Wainer, Wall Street Journal, 9/9)
*Advisory Board is a subsidiary of Optum, a division of UnitedHealth Group. All Advisory Board research, expert perspectives, and recommendations remain independent.