If you have loads of money lying around, you can fork over a few thousand dollars to sign up for concierge medical care from a private physician or group practice and get more or less immediate service. Or, you can sign up with One Medical, a chain of primary care clinics purchased by Amazon, for $144 a year.
Amazon completed the purchase Tuesday. One Medical operates more than 200 medical offices in 26 cities in the US. Customers pay a subscription fee for access to its physicians and digital health services.
The deal means that Amazon customers who sign up for the service will be able to "get what they need to stay healthy," as Amazon CEO Andy Jassy put it in an open letter on the Amazon site.
"With One Medical, customers can connect with clinicians 24/7 via video chat or messaging if that’s most convenient. Or, customers can choose to make an appointment same day or within days to visit any of One Medical’s offices in many U.S. cities," Jassy said. "If you need a specialist, One Medical works closely with lots of hospital systems and can help you get a referral and an appointment quickly."
The deal adds to previous Amazon acquisitions in the health care field, including PillPack, a nationwide pharmacy service; RxPass, which lets customers get as many generic drugs as they need from a list of 60 for $5 a month; and Amazon Clinic, a "telehealth" service that lets customers get treatment for common ailments like sinusitis and migraines.
FTC remains wary
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) didn't sue to block the transaction, as it sometimes does in similar cases, but said in a statement that it will be monitoring developments closely.
“The FTC’s investigation of Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical continues,” FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar said in a Wall Street Journal report. “The commission will continue to look at possible harms to competition created by this merger as well as possible harms to consumers that may result from Amazon’s control and use of sensitive consumer health information held by One Medical.”
The FTC’s reservations include concerns about how patient data will be protected and whether the acquisition will have an anti-competitive effect on medical care.
FTC Chair Lina Kahn has been critical of Amazon in the past. Prior to being confirmed to the FTC, she had written an academic paper saying that Amazon should not have been allowed to grow so freely.
Amazon is not alone in seeking to get into primary health care. CVS recently acquired Oak Street Health and other companies are expected to follow.
Horse and buggy health care?
In his open letter to Amazon customers, CEO Jassy made it sound like modern medical practices were relics from a distant era:
Today, getting great health care is often too difficult and inconvenient. Typically, you have to find a doctor, make an appointment a few weeks in advance, and drive 15-20 minutes or longer to the doctor’s office. When you get there, you wait in the reception area for a while, get called by a nurse into an exam room, wait another 10-15 minutes or so, and eventually see a doctor for only a few minutes who often then prescribes a medication. Finally, you drive 20 minutes or more to the pharmacy and wait for the medication to be ready—all while you or a loved one you’re caring for aren’t feeling well. It’s a lot of work; and let’s face it, the system isn’t working for customers or clinicians.
Whether getting medical care from Amazon is what American consumers have been longing for remains to be seen. It wasn't hard to find skepticism about the deal.
“I think that’s huge. Does it fix everything that’s wrong with our healthcare system? No. But they didn’t set out to fix our healthcare system. They set out to make some money,” said Michael Abrams, managing partner of health consultancy Numerof & Associates, in a HealthcareDive report.
Taking a more sanguine view was Sebastian Seiguer, JD, CEO of Johns Hopkins-backed digital health platform emocha Health,
“There is no reason to believe that Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical will have any major impact on healthcare. There are thousands and thousands of healthcare facilities in this country, and there are many other virtual primary care providers, such as Eden Health, Heal, and PeopleOne,” he said in a recent Healthline article.