Amazon, Berkshire's Haven aims to 'simplify insurance'

(Bloomberg) --The mysterious new health-care venture announced by Amazon.com Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will be called Haven, the firm announced Wednesday.

Haven also unveiled a website, havenhealthcare.com, and a letter from Chief Executive Officer Atul Gawande, the surgeon, Harvard professor and writer chosen to lead the venture last June.

Haven wants to improve access to primary care, simplify insurance and make prescription drugs more affordable, according to the website. It will initially serve 1.2 million employees of Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan, though it later plans “to share our innovations and solutions to help others.”

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The Amazon.com logo is seen during the company's job fair in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S. Photographer: Jim Young/Bloomberg

Haven was formed because its founding companies “have been frustrated by the quality, service, and high costs that their employees and families have experienced in the U.S. health system,” Gawande said in a letter posted on the website.

Excitement, Fear

The website is the most detailed information yet about the year-old, Boston-based venture that has generated excitement in the health-care industry even before details of its plans were made public. It has also raised fears among health insurers, drugmakers and other parts of the industry that the giant companies backing Haven would use their collective power to disrupt established players.

Gawande wrote that Haven “will be an advocate for the patient and an ally to anyone” who wants to improve patient care and costs. The company will “create new solutions and work to change systems, technologies, contracts, policy, and whatever else is in the way of better care,” he wrote.

Last month, Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett praised Gawande as a “terrific fellow,” saying that the venture’s goals will be to stop the extreme rise in medical costs and hopefully find a better system for employees. Buffett’s business partner, Charles Munger, said in February that it’s probably one of the hardest tasks on Berkshire’s agenda.

In addition to Gawande, board members of the new venture include Todd Combs, portfolio manager and investment officer at Berkshire, JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, and Beth Galetti, senior vice president at Amazon.

The companies have characterized the venture as a long-term effort that would be free from profit-making incentives and constraints. Haven will reinvest any surplus into its work, according to the website.

The venture has recently been entangled in a legal conflict with UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s Optum unit. Optum sued a former employee, David William Smith, to enforce a noncompete agreement after he was hired by Haven. A federal judge in Massachusetts last month denied Optum’s motion for a temporary restraining order to keep Smith from starting work and sent the case to arbitration.