May 15, 2020

Atul Gawande has stepped down as CEO of Haven. Will that derail the venture?

Daily Briefing

    Prominent surgeon Atul Gawande on Wednesday confirmed he is stepping down as CEO of Haven, the health care venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase—and some industry experts are raising questions about whether his departure could derail the venture.

    Haven 101: What we know about the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan joint venture

    Gawande steps down as Haven CEO

    Gawande in a statement on Wednesday confirmed his exit as CEO of Haven, a role he held for two years. Haven said it currently is searching for a new CEO. In the meantime, Mitch Betses, the company's current COO, will "manag[e] day to day operations," Haven said.

    Gawande in the statement said he will continue to serve as chair of Haven's board of directors, which "will elevate [his] focus from daily management to supporting Haven's strategy, board, and leadership."

    Gawande added, "It will also enable me to devote time to policy and activities addressing the immediate and long-term threats to health and health systems from Covid-19. As I reflected on how I could best contribute, this is an ideal role."

    Will Haven still be able to change health care?

    Some health care industry experts have speculated that Gawande's departure as CEO could derail Haven—which many say has yet to make an impact on America's health care system.

    Haven has said it aims to improve access to primary care, lower prescription drug costs, and simplify insurance coverage, but the company largely has kept its health care initiatives under wraps since its inception two years ago, STAT News reports.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, the venture has dedicated most of its time and resources to tracking the health care behaviors of its employees. And the venture's only publicized initiative so far is a health insurance offering for JPMorgan employees that offers flat costs for certain services as well as financial rewards for employees that meet certain health targets.

    In addition to the venture's "slow start," the Journal reports that the company has experienced a lot of executive turnover, STAT News reports. Former COO Jack Stoddard, for instance, stepped down in 2019 after less than a year in the role.

    But many health industry experts believe Haven still could have an impact on the industry, especially if the company rallies behind a new executive soon, CNBC reports.

    For example, Sachin Jain, an adjunct professor at Stanford Medicine, told CNBC that Haven could address primary care and pharmacy costs by bringing on experts who can advocate for regulatory changes. Elizabeth Mitchell, leader of the Pacific Business Group on Health, said contracts with hospitals could allow the venture to ensure employees are seen by high-quality providers while also lowering overall costs.

    "Innovative employers, partnered with the best providers, are most empowered to fix United States health care," said Jonathan Slotkin, CMO of Contigo Health.

    Mitchell said the venture also could position itself to help American employers as they grapple with the country's new coronavirus epidemic and look for ways to reduce overhead costs.

    "These cost pressures could force change," she said. "For the right person at the helm, who understands health operations and knows what they're up against, there's a big opportunity here" (Ross, STAT News, 5/13; Sebastian, Wall Street Journal, 5/13; Haven Healthcare release, 5/13; Armstrong/Tozzi, Bloomberg, 5/13; Farr, CNBC, 5/13).

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