Amazon: Movies, Music, and Medicine?

Amazon may be your future one-stop-shop to buy a new ebook, download some music, and pay your health insurance bill. It seems quite a leap for mega-retailer Amazon to go from book clubs and movie rentals to doctors and prescriptions, but like last year’s purchase of Whole Foods, the company has made headlines by announcing a new healthcare venture.

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It’s no secret that healthcare costs have risen in the past decade for both employers and employees. CNN Money reports that premiums have jumped almost 50% for family coverage since 2008 and more than tripled since 1999. This results in employees paying more in deductibles and co-pays. If Amazon can do for healthcare what it did for books – think the early Amazon days of reducing rates, compiling deliveries, and offering access to areas without bookstores – it would be an enormous game changer. (It may be the start of a whole new game!) While there have been many attempts to alter healthcare, CNN Money offers insight into how Amazon is a bit different: 

"One thing we know for sure is there's a lot of overhead costs in health care," said Frederick Isasi, executive director of FamiliesUSA, a health care advocacy group.

While many employers have tried to tackle health insurance costs in the past, they often didn't have the bandwidth or resources to devote to the issue, Isasi said. The new venture, however, will be focused on its mission and will have the financial backing of three strong firms.

Partnering with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, the new trio aim to start a healthcare change within their own companies. They will offer their US employees a health insurance option that is not for profit. The success of this venture will most likely lead to expansion to other companies.

The move could offer a transparency to healthcare that could bring change. Forbes recently shared that health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers “have long said they want to bring more transparency to the U.S. healthcare system, yet consumers often don’t know the true cost of healthcare. Prices are negotiated in secret and doctors don’t often know what their own services cost or what their patients will be charged.”

Amazon has the potential negotiating power to reduce the costs of drug prescriptions, offer multiple healthcare providers, and store massive amounts of data and information. Right now, logging into your Amazon personalized page can provide you a reminder to buy a new air filter, remember what you bought for your nephew five years ago, and offer suggestions on your next read. The same applications that make internet shopping fast and easy could potentially be used to store your medical records, remember to refill prescriptions, and more. CNN Money shares:

Amazon could also improve Americans' interaction with their insurance companies and providers, which all-too-often involves ancient technologies such as faxing, said Bob Kocher, a partner who specializes in health care information technology at Venrock, a venture capital firm. After all, Amazon invented one-click ordering on its retail site. It could develop a similar process for paying medical bills, even grouping invoices for doctors, facilities and labs for care that takes place in a hospital, for instance.

And Amazon could make it easier for patients and providers to access their medical records, which would also reduce costs. The new venture could store all that information in the cloud, said Michael Pachter, managing director for equity research at Wedbush Securities.

With health company mergers trending, it’s no surprise that Amazon is looking to disrupt the industry. Only time will tell if it will help patients in North Carolina.

What do you think: Will a new Amazon healthcare venture be the next big thing to help patients, or will it be too tough a change for even Amazon to make? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.

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