What should we think about the new alliance among Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to address ever increasing health care costs? We still do not know what they will do or try to do. But, their alliance alone is a breath of fresh air, disruptive of the health care marketplace. If it causes a big enough disruption, it could lead to Medicare for all.
For now, this alliance is intended exclusively to help the 1.2 million employees at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan get better care at lower cost. But, it opens the door to more businesses taking a lead in the health care reform debate, exposing the limitations of our for-profit health care system. Their alliance pressures commercial health insurers to do better or risk losing significant numbers of covered lives. Their press release puts health insurers on notice: They want to create a health care company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” and their goal is “improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs.”
The spotlight has been on rising health care costs–premiums, deductibles and copays–which have been making health care increasingly unaffordable for many people. And, the Amazon alliance only intensifies the beam on that spotlight, for the good. Already, stock prices for the big health insurers have fallen as people see that a powerful business alliance could reduce health insurer revenues, if not squeeze them out altogether.
Big business has traditionally shunned engagement in the health care reform debate, instead agreeing to ever higher premiums and shifting more costs onto their employees. But, that tack is eating deeply into employee wages and is unsustainable in the long term. With Amazon and other corporate titans taking the lead to switch things up, it is more than likely that scores of other businesses will jump on the bandwagon.
If more businesses opt for a new direction on the health insurance front, it could create an opening for Congress to step in. Can we get to Medicare for all, with a strong traditional Medicare program designed to provide affordable care to people with complex and costly conditions? Or, will we be stuck with a proprietary for-profit system that is designed to limit access and cater to the healthy, that already has shown us that it is incapable of reining in costs, and that has never proven itself to deliver value.
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