What if you could get health care as quickly and easily as you order socks and cat litter? It sounds fanciful in a country where people die waiting to see a doctor, but Amazon believed it could do for health care what it had done for shopping. Hailed as “the future of medicine,” the Amazon Care telehealth and house-call service was pitched to employers as “high-quality care, convenience and peace of mind.”
Last week, though, the company announced it would shut down Amazon Care at the end of this year. For the second time in two years, Amazon has had to concede failure in an effort to take on the American health care system. It might be possible to deliver a spatula to someone’s apartment in 24 hours, but applying the same approach to health care seems a taller order.
Yet Amazon is not giving up: It plans to purchase One Medical, a membership-based primary care provider with in-person and telehealth services in 19 cities. One Medical could prove a better business bet, but there’s no grand fix for the health care system to be achieved here.
Any company claiming its innovation will revolutionize American health care by itself is selling a fantasy. There is no technological miracle waiting around the corner that will solve problems caused by decades of neglectful policy decisions and rampant fraud. And a fix aimed at just the upper crust of employer-sponsored health coverage has no hope of making health care more accessible to those who are truly being left behind.
Amazon Care and One Medical saw the same market opportunity within the crisis-ridden American health care system: a paid escape hatch for the better-off. Not the really wealthy — they have always had concierge care on demand — but the middle- to upper-middle-class worker who has a job and insurance, yet who can’t believe how hard it is just to see a doctor.
One Medical, pitching itself as “no ordinary doctor’s office,” lets people with means leapfrog some of the hassles and waits of American health care, while promising longer appointments and friendlier doctors. Its offices are concentrated in wealthier areas and do not accept Medicaid, which reimburses providers far less than private insurance and tends to cover sicker patients who require more costly care.
Amazon will have a big task on its hands to make One Medical work: The company, which charges $199 a year for membership, has not been profitable, losing $91 million in the first quarter of 2022.
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