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A Craigslist moment for the healthcare industry, ripe for disruption

Vinny Tafuro

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"Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try." - Atul Gawande [Dr. Atul Gawande by Amar Karodkar, from Wikimedia Commons]
In January, CEOs Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon announced plans to fix the broken U.S. healthcare system by creating a new healthcare company that would be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Last month, they announced Dr. Atul Gawande as CEO of their yet-to-be-named venture.
 
What happens when you have sample size nearly half that of a European nation, the nimbleness of capitalism, and a CEO like Gawande? When the company is unconcerned with profit and under the influence of Bezos, who finds “opportunity” by eliminating competitors’ profits?
 
While economists and job forecasters are aware that many jobs will be lost to automation, what happens as healthcare is rebuilt? Insurance sales, for example, currently consists of meeting with a professional each year to help me decide which insurance plan will cover me the best while ripping me off the least. What happens to that middle layer of professional service people when the margins that make their living disappear?
 
The new entity – let’s call it Hathazon – whose structure has not yet been decided, will initially focus on the 1.2 million combined employees at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and Chase (ABC)–bringing with it long-term implications for the healthcare industry. Already recognized as disruptive force, the revolutionary nature of Gawande’s opportunity will lay siege to a deeply troubled industry.
 
While founder Craig Newmark may note that the news industry decline “began long before” Craigslist launched, the impact on the financial stability of the newspaper industry has been undeniable and catastrophic. Healthcare companies, like newspapers before, have insulated themselves in lazy, wasteful,and exploitative orthodoxy, believing that maintaining a position of authority is more important than the service they provide.
 
Gawande has already impacted millions of lives and knows that high and rising medical costs do not result in higher quality care. A surgeon and bestselling author, Gawande is a respected and well-known voice in public health, who brings “an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” according to a statement by Bezos.
 
If Gawande and company are up to the task, what Craigslist did to newspapers will pale in comparison to the fallout in health care.
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