Earlier this year, billionaires Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon promised to launch a new partnership that would upend the healthcare industry and lower the cost of care for the employees of their very large companies. That has yet to come to fruition, in large part due to one very big problem: they can’t find someone to run the damn thing.
CNBC reported Wednesday that the very rich trio have yet to land a CEO to head up their nebulous company that is intended to create an independent healthcare firm for workers at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase.
The executives have reportedly interviewed a number of health policy and insurance experts but have yet to actually settle on someone capable of running the venture, known as ABC. Gary Loveman, a former executive at insurance giant Aetna, former Medicare chief Andy Slavitt, and the Obama administration’s Chief Technology Officer Todd Park all received consideration for the gig, but none were tapped to lead it.
With the more traditional hires off the board, the group is apparently turning its search to people with more “entrepreneurial” experience rather than those with knowledge of drug companies and health plans, which ABC’s backers view as “part of the problem,” according to CNBC.
Despite being backed by essentially bottomless pockets, the ABC partnership—which includes two of the three wealthiest people on earth, according to Forbes, and could conservatively be described as having all of the money—has yet to land upon its leadership, likely in part because no one is really sure what the hell the company is supposed and looks to the outside observer to be a bit of a mess.
When the whole concept was first announced back in January, a joint press release laid out the sparse initial framework for the partnership, describing it as a company that would be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” and focused on “technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” That all sounds well and good, except that it doesn’t really mean anything. The billionaires figured out healthcare is expensive and technology is useful. The rest will be on the new guy, whoever it ends up being.
Then there’s the fact that the job requires bridging three massive companies that have no real existing infrastructure between them. CNBC cites an investment manager at Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, who said one of the primary challenges in the process has been finding someone who will be capable of wrangling the 1.2 million employees who work throughout the firms. The seems like a big ask, especially of executives coming from the profit-motivated world of tech and healthcare who supposedly will be encouraged to steer clear of monetary incentives.
It’s worth noting that at least one of the executives in the trio, Amazon’s Bezos, has a less than stellar record when it comes to caring about the health of his own employees. A 2011 report from the Morning Call found that Amazon warehouse employees were sometimes working in temperatures as high as 114 degrees and the company kept paramedics on hand in ambulances to treat workers who suffered from dehydration and heat stress. In 2015, a former Amazon supervisor spilled to HuffPost on the working conditions of the warehouses, stating that employees were often told, “You are going to hurt after the first week. ... You are going to crawl into bed and pray you can get out in the morning.” Earlier this year, public records revealed that many Amazon workers are recipients of food stamps—an essential program for low-income individuals, but one that is also sometimes linked to poor health outcomes because the cheapest food often isn’t the healthiest.
Warren Buffett told investors earlier this month that ABC aims to have a CEO “within a couple of months.” The billionaires can’t change healthcare overnight, but they especially won’t be able to do it without any sort of real plan in place for the venture.