Five things to learn from the Haven collapse


In 2018, Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett set out to satiate the “hungry hunger” of rising health care costs hitting the U.S. economy, partnering with Amazon and JPMorgan to create Haven. The joint venture has been hailed as a major disruptor that has had the size, scope and financial support to solve everything that afflicts the health of the United States – and that’s exactly where it went wrong.

After three years, the joint venture closed, with experts saying Haven tried to do too much, with too many people. Here are five things we can learn from the organization’s efforts:

1. Collaboration is the key. When Haven was first announced, three outsiders said they had planned to disrupt the entire health ecosystem. Executives may have lost patience with the difficulty and slow pace of reforming the notoriously heavy luggage industry, which could explain the high levels of staff turnover Haven experienced before his death. When thinking about how to structure employee benefits, companies should build on previous successes, seek insight from existing and experienced organizations, and collaborate with other companies to build market power through purchasing coalitions.

2. Identify project owners to keep you accountable. When structuring employee benefits, don’t rely on a single vision to dictate the strategy of your entire organization. Engage the entire C suite around cost-cutting initiatives and strategic benefits, and ensure that the CFO, medical director, and human resources managers are placed at the planning table. Once you have defined a strategy, make sure that responsibilities are clearly defined and distributed to keep the company on track to achieve its goals.


3. Stay focused. Haven was tasked with identifying and coordinating care needs in three large companies in different geographies, industries and with different employee populations. All of these factors could have made it difficult to pinpoint a single strategy. When structuring employee benefits, organizations should identify their individual employee wants and needs, create a unique offering, and then scale their findings to other companies from there, if they think so.

4. Implement digital tools. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that, for some forms of care delivery, consumers prefer to meet virtually with providers. The hot investment market has also fueled more startups, offering more solutions than ever before. Think strategically about which services can be digitized – which often result in cost savings – and which should be in person, and structure your offerings accordingly. A key part of the conversation should be how digital tools can be used to scale care in more markets.

5. Talk to the feds. CMS literally sets is figuratively and standards for the healthcare industry. Private insurers often follow Medicare guidance — including pilots at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation — when thinking of new benefits. Employers should engage policy makers and contribute to research as officials create new payment and delivery models, with the goal of using federal resources to improve care delivery for all.

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