Everything about Amazon.com Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s enigmatic effort to reduce health care costs has been unusual.
On Wednesday, the triumverate stuck to their strange guns by picking renowned surgeon, writer and Harvard public-health researcher Atul Gawande to run their new company.
It’s easy to peg the choice as something of a victory for incumbents. Gawande is brilliant. But he has no experience in managing a large organization, or in the practical aspects of managing employee health care costs. He’ll face a steep learning curve. And it’s still unclear what this organization will actually do beyond producing buzzword-laden press releases.
But it’s hard to imagine a more fascinating person to empower with the combined resources of companies worth $1.6 trillion and a long leash. Tangible results may take longer than they would if an industry insider were to take charge, or if the venture were to narrowly focus on something like drug costs. But they are likely to be much more interesting.
If Gawande lacks a conventional resume for this job, the one he has should still do nicely. He’s spent years grappling with issues that have caused health care spending to spiral in the U.S without much improvement in outcomes. These include things like overtreatment, overdiagnosis — and the bad incentives that encourage it — geographic disparities in cost and outcomes, and outsize spending on end-of-life care.