Sylvia Mathews Burwell (Photo: HHS)

Wanted: Chief executive for health care startup. Must be able to reinvent an industry, reduce spiraling costs and improve care for one million people — and possibly the entire nation.

Reply to: Three billionaires.

Amazon.com Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are teaming up to try to solve the seemingly insurmountable mess that’s the U.S. health care system. Their venture raises a crucial question of who could run such an enterprise.

Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon might seek out an executive who’s run a health care organization and understands the minutiae of an insurer. Or they could pick a crisis manager who has ideas for streamlining operations, or someone adept at navigating regulatory hurdles and trimming costs. Or someone who can do it all.

“It’s been a long time coming for employers to say, ‘Look, health care is too expensive”’ said Jonathan Gruber, who teaches economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and advised Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on their health care plans. “In some sense it’s been surprising that it’s taken this long.”

(Related: Top AHIP officials departing)

The effort, still in the planning stages, is being spearheaded by Berkshire investment officer Todd Combs, JPMorgan managing director Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold and Amazon executive Beth Galetti.

Here are six people who might fit the bill.


1. Toby Cosgrove

Before announcing his resignation last year, Cosgrove spent more than a decade running Cleveland Clinic, the multibillion-dollar health system. He also spent about 30 years as a cardiac surgeon. He was in the running to head the Department of Veterans Affairs for Donald Trump, withdrawing at the end of 2016.


2. Karen Ignagni

In 2015, she took over as CEO of insurer EmblemHealth Inc. which serves about 3 million people in New York’s tri-state area and is one of the largest not-for-profit health plans in the U.S. Before that, she ran America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national lobbying group for the industry.


3. Sylvia Mathews Burwell

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary under President Obama, Burwell has the kind of big-ticket resume that appeals to billionaire CEOs. She ran the Walmart Foundation and was chief operating officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was the first president of its global development program. On the other hand, she’s less than a year into her job as American University’s president.


4. Peter Orszag

The vice chairman of investment banking at Lazard Ltd., who’s also the co-head of its health care unit, Orszag ran Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. Before that, he led the Congressional Budget Office, where he studied health care spending. (Orszag is a Bloomberg View columnist.)


5. Ronald Williams

After stepping down as chairman and CEO of insurer Aetna Inc., Williams served on Obama’s President’s Management Advisory Board. He’s an adviser at private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice.


6. Jeffrey Zients

When the 2013 rollout of HealthCare.gov became a disaster, Zients was the man Obama tapped to clean it up. After salvaging the website, the former consultant and investor ran Obama’s National Economic Council. Now he’s president of the Cranemere Group, a private equity firm.

—Read Burwell Has Insurance Ties on ThinkAdvisor.


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