Dr. Atul Gawande to lead Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase Health venture

Atul Gawande, an Indian American surgeon, writer and public health innovator has been named as the CEO of a new U.S. employee health care company, in a joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Gawande, 52, will start on July 9 and the new company will be headquartered in Boston, operating as an independent entity that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints, according to a PTI report.

“I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better health care delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world,” Gawande told media.

“Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people, and in doing so incubate better models of care for all. This work will take time but must be done. The system is broken, and better is possible,” he added.

Gawande, a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is probably best known for his work writing about health care for The New Yorker and in books that include the influential Checklist Manifesto.

He was also the founding executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint project between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, that tries to put some of his ideas about improving care during critical moments, such as childbirth and surgery, into practice.

The three-company partnership was announced in January. At the time, the CEOs were short on details and long on ambition. The nonprofit venture was formed to figure out “ways to address healthcare for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs.”

In early June, CNBC reported that Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of Pennsylvania-based health system Geisinger Health System, was among the top picks to lead the health care venture. But he later said that he was staying put. CNBC said that during the CEO selection process, 10 candidates “were asked to write a white paper on how they would fix the health care system.” Three of them were interviewed.

Gawande has written four New York Times bestsellers: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal and has received numerous awards for his contributions to science and health care. “All felt that better care can be delivered and that rising costs can be checked. Jamie, Jeff and I are confident that we have found in Atul the leader who will get this important job done,” Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, said in a statement.

“Together, we have the talent and resources to make things better, and it is our responsibility to do so. We’re so grateful for the countless statements of support and offers to help and participate, and we’re so fortunate to have attracted such an extraordinary leader and innovator as Atul,” Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said in a statement.

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation. Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavour,” Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, said in a statement.

The health firm will be independent from the three firms, whose leaders formed the group as a way of contending with what Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett called a “tapeworm” eating the U.S. economy, the report said.

Gawande is a prominent name in health-care policy circles, though he hasn’t run a major business. Many details of the new venture – its name, size, budget and authority — weren’t immediately available, Bloomberg added.

“Almost of the same import is who does Atul hire as his COO,” said Vivek Garipalli, the CEO of Clover Health, a closely held health insurer that serves Medicare patients, and has focused on coordinating their care to try and cut costs, according to the report. “That vision has to be translated by somebody who understands the nuances” of contracting with doctors and hospitals, health insurance markets and other details, it added.

Gawande, 52, rose to prominence among health-care policy experts with a 2009 New Yorker article, “The Cost Conundrum,” that examined why health care was vastly more expensive in some parts of the U.S. than others, despite little difference in the sickness or health of people getting it, Bloomberg reported. The piece focused on McAllen, Texas, and why the Medicare program spent $15,000 a year on the town’s older patients, thousands of dollars more than in other areas, it said.

At the time, the article also attracted the attention of Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger. Gawande “had an article last summer that was absolutely magnificent,” Buffett told CNBC in March 1, 2010, according to a transcript of the appearance, the report went on.

“You have these enormous variances around the country. And, you know, if you had some really smart people running it that knew a lot about medicine, they’re going to — they could do a lot about it,” Buffett said in the appearance.

Munger thought the article was so socially useful that he blindly mailed Gawande a $20,000 check, Buffett told CNBC at the time, according to Bloomberg’s piece published June 20. Gawande donated the money to an international project to improve surgical equipment in developing countries, according to the report, citing the Huffington Post.

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