Is this the first step toward a single payer system?

Shock waves reverberated through the US healthcare industry in reaction to the announcement that three powerful friends – Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com Inc.), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway Inc.), and Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase & Co.) – plan to join forces to change how healthcare is provided to their employees.

The new partnership will initially focus on technology to provide simplified, high-quality health care for employees and their families at a reasonable cost. Although it’s too soon to say exactly what form the entity will take – the plan is still in the concept phase – one idea is an online healthcare dashboard connecting employees with the nearest doctor specializing in the ailment selected from a drop-down menu.

“Each of those companies has extensive experience using transformative technology in their own businesses,” said John Sculley, the former chief executive of Apple who is now chairman of a health care start-up, RxAdvance. “I think it’s a great counterweight to what government leadership hasn’t done, which is to focus on how do we make this healthcare system sustainable.”

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”

This is not the first time American corporations have taken an active role in their employees’ healthcare. Henry Ford opened a hospital in Detroit to serve his growing work force in 1915. More recently, 20 major companies including Verizon, American Express, IBM and Shell Oil joined in a Health Transformation Alliance to improve the way health care is purchased for employees.

While the Canadian single-payer system arose from a social justice initiative spearheaded by Saskatchewan’s Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the precursor to today’s National Democratic Party and comprised at the time of farmers’ unions and other organizations), the size and complexity of the US population and economy make it difficult to introduce a single-payer system that relies solely on government support. The simple economic imperative of finding affordable quality healthcare for one million employees may be the driving force behind US healthcare reformation.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffet has previously stated his support for a single-payer healthcare system. In today’s statement, he says:  “The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy. Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

“Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” said Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he added.

Sources: The New York Times, Businesswire, Bloomberg.