Haven, ambitious health venture backed by Amazon, to shut down

After a tumultuous three years marked by halting progress and high rates of employee turnover, Haven — the ambitious health care venture launched by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway — is dissolving.

Haven will cease operations at the end of February, Haven spokesperson Brooke Thurston confirmed to STAT.

“The Haven team made good progress exploring a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloting new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” she said. Thurston said the three companies will “continue to collaborate informally” on programs for their individual employee populations.

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The news, first reported by CNBC, is sure to send observers in the health tech industry reeling: While Haven had not made any visible signs of progress since its 2018 debut, many outside experts believed its far-reaching endeavors could be realized on a long-term timeline of several years or even a decade.

Still, signs that the wheels were beginning to come off the wagon have been emerging since May 2020, when Atul Gawande, Haven’s chief executive officer, stepped down. The celebrated surgeon and health policy thinker had continued to serve as chairperson of the venture but was recently named to President-elect Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, where his duties are expected to take up a majority of his time. His departure came a year after Jack Stoddard, the company’s chief operating officer, left the company

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Haven has since lost nearly every member of its executive suite, including chief technology officer Serkan Kutan and former vice president of clinical strategy Sandhya Rao, who in December took a post as chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. In November, Dana Gelb Safran, Haven’s head of measurement, left the company to become senior vice president of value-based care and population health at Well Health. Mitch Betses, who has served as chief operating officer since Stoddard’s departure, is one of the only executives remaining at Haven.

Between May and December of 2020, Haven lost at least 21 staff members, according to LinkedIn data, dropping from 80 employees to 59.

Despite its lofty goals, Haven ultimately lacked a clear vision as well as a strong leader who could steer the ship, former employees and outside experts in business management have previously told STAT.

“They didn’t come up with a big, executable idea,” said Erik Gordon, professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “There was this general chat about access, primary health care, and transparency, but not a big idea about how to get those end results.”

Some of Haven’s efforts also overlapped significantly with Amazon’s internal health initiatives, such as Amazon Care, Amazon’s own effort to provide virtual and in-person care. A former Haven employee told STAT that while Haven stalled, Amazon appeared to turn to Amazon Care as a primary vehicle to accomplish some of its same goals.

Amazon Care “sounds eerily similar to everything we tried to do at Haven,” said the former employee on condition of anonymity, citing a nondisclosure agreement. “In the end the internal initiative” — meaning Amazon Care — “clearly won out,” they added.

In the meantime, Amazon has built out a health care empire of its own, debuting a smattering of efforts geared toward employees and consumers over the past year, including the health tracking wearable Halo and a partnership with Crossover Health, a venture-backed startup, to build health clinics for Amazon staff.

The crown jewel of those efforts is Amazon Pharmacy, the shipping giant’s prescription medication service, which offers discounts to members of its subscription delivery service, Amazon Prime. After the launch of the service in November, online pharmacy rivals including GoodRx and Ro rolled out new offerings that could set them up to compete with the shipping giant, such as free delivery and telehealth services.

Casey Ross contributed reporting. 

Source: STAT