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Amazon is about to launch its telehealth offering for other employers and more Amazon employees throughout the country, two people familiar with the matter told Insider.
Through a mobile app, Amazon Care offers online appointments with healthcare professionals, as well as home and worksite visits. To date, the service has been available only to Amazon employees in Washington state.
That’s starting to change. Insider reported in December that Amazon Care was undertaking a national expansion, with the goal of serving workers at other major companies. Care Medical, the group that runs Amazon Care’s doctor’s visits, has been quickly laying the groundwork to operate throughout the US. The group has filed with regulators to operate in at least 28 states, according to a review of state filings by Insider.
Now Amazon Care is gearing up to go public with its ambitions, said the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the press. The announcement could be days or weeks away, as the exact timing has not yet been determined.
As part of the launch, Amazon Care plans to provide virtual care in all 50 US states, one person said. It will expand the healthcare offering for the rest of Amazon’s US workers and invite employers to use the service as well, the two people said. It may also announce that it’s working with one or more companies to provide Amazon Care to their workers, they said.
Amazon declined Insider’s request for comment.
Launching Amazon Care nationally will be the first time that Amazon puts a stake in the ground in healthcare delivery, not just pills and devices. It will also be the first time that the company makes clear the purpose behind Amazon Care, which is to not just serve Amazon’s own employees but also stand up a lucrative healthcare business in the $3.8 trillion healthcare industry, while solving for other employers their shared cost headaches.
It’s not yet clear if in-person care will be part of Amazon’s national expansion. In the past, when Amazon Care expanded from Seattle to the broader state of Washington, it did so with just the virtual aspects of the program, which are messaging, online appointments, and prescription delivery. It left out the home visits, wherein Amazon can send nurses directly into people’s homes for exams, because Care Medical, the medical group, wasn’t yet large enough.
But ultimately, Amazon Care would like to provide in-person visits widely, including where companies are headquartered, Insider previously reported.
Amazon’s ambitions to deliver healthcare
Employers insure about half of Americans and spend more than $880 billion on healthcare each year. Amazon hasn’t talked about its healthcare costs, but for its rival Walmart, they were its second-highest expenditure behind wages in 2018.
The rising cost of paying for healthcare prompted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to work with JPMorgan CEO Jaime Dimon and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett on a healthcare venture, Haven. The venture set out to come up with tech-oriented solutions for the founding companies. But the venture ended after organizational confusion, Amazon’s own healthcare ambitions, and the inherent complications of employer-run benefits got in the way.
Amazon Care, which was dreamed up by a combination of the human-resources department and Grand Challenge, Amazon’s secretive lab for big ideas, got started before Haven came along and grew to become the company’s biggest bet in healthcare besides Amazon Pharmacy, its service for buying and shipping medication.
Amazon wanted to improve healthcare for employees and lower its own spend as a company with more than 1 million workers that pays for its employees’ medical care. It’s also known for solving its own problems, like server costs, and then turning the solutions into huge businesses, like Amazon Web Services. It was only a matter of time before it did the same in healthcare, Jeff Becker, a healthcare analyst, told Insider.
Now Amazon Care could be a launching point for a broader healthcare business, he said. While Amazon is not heading into uncharted territory — digital health for employers is a well-funded and competitive space — it has aspects that make it different, like if the company decided to bundle care services with its pharmacy offering, he said in an interview.
Amazon is also expanding work with health wearables, connected devices, and, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, diagnostic labs. A growing number of companies are combining services like these to treat people at home to avoid the two highest cost settings, which are the hospital and the nursing home, Becker said.
“If you can get emergency-department visits to the urgent-care setting, and then urgent-care visits to the home, you’re saving tons of money by doing that — enough that it’s worth driving a doctor to your house,” he said.
Amazon Care has been gearing up to grow
In another sign of its intentions to create a lucrative medical-care business, Amazon Care recently formed a lobbying group with other digital-health startups called “Moving Health Home.” It hopes to influence policymakers at the national and local level, allowing for more at-home care and reimbursements by health plans.
When the coronavirus pandemic made virtual care more accessible, Amazon Care’s corporate bosses started pushing for a quicker national expansion. The company initially planned to have contracts in place with several companies that had employees in all 50 states by July.
In March, Stat reported that Care Medical, the medical group that runs Amazon Care appointments, filed to do business in 17 additional states besides Washington, including Georgia, Maine, and Alaska. The Seattle Times identified a few more. Care Medical has filed in more states since those reports, including Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Care Medical filed in additional states as recently as March 9.
But a medical group’s state filings don’t necessarily show where the patients are.
Doctors can be in Rhode Island, as one example, while providing telehealth to patients living in Massachusetts, as long as they are licensed in both states, Marschall Smith, the executive director at the Interstate Medical Licensing Compact Commission, said. State rules governing telehealth have been relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic, often eliminating or reducing additional licensing requirements to practice across state lines.
In addition to expanding its physical footprint, Amazon Care is also expanding its care services. It introduced primary-care components in January, the two people said, meaning it has shifted from addressing just people’s one-off issues like fevers and rashes. Now the service is aiming to become people’s go-to resource when it comes to their health, providing, for example, chronic-care management and preventive care like physicals.