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Paging Amazon Healthcare: One Medical

Amazon acquires significant stake in the healthcare industry by purchasing One Medical, but skepticism abounds.

Amazon is set to execute the largest acquisition of a healthcare company to date. Struggling in the public market, bleeding money, and desperate to find a buyer, One Medical is poised to be bought out by Amazon. Although this will keep the troubled organization afloat and preserve customers’ coverage, many are concerned about the privacy implications of surrendering patient data to the tech giant.

One Medical

The membership-based primary care provider offers customers “24/7 access to virtual care.” As a relatively new entity founded in 2007 in an emerging telehealth market, One Medical is contracted with more than 8,000 companies to offer services to their employees in 16 U.S. markets. Combining in-person and virtual care, One Medical attempts to make healthcare affordable and accessible.

As of May 2022, the company had about 767,000 members. With the help of Amazon, that number will likely grow. This buyout is a saving grace for One Medical, because it lost $255 million in 2021 and $89 million in 2020. Even its parent company, 1life Healthcare, lost 75% of its market value in the past year. There were reports last month that CVS Health offered to acquire the membership-based primary care company, but it was rejected.

Expanding Control

In this mere $3.9 billion cash deal, Amazon will strengthen its pre-existing foothold in healthcare. In 2018, the technology giant acquired PillPack and used it to start an online pharmacy. One of the most significant purchases in Amazon’s history, this indicates where the tech behemoth’s intentions lie: increasing access and affordability for consumers while expanding its monopolistic power.

“Healthcare is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention,” claimed Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services, and his company plans to be one “that helps dramatically improve the healthcare experience over the next several years.” However, not everyone is joyous about this transaction, and it may be torpedoed before it even becomes official.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN), who chairs the Senate antitrust subcommittee, has called upon the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “thoroughly investigate” this proposed deal. In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, Klobuchar wrote that Amazon’s offer “raises questions about potential anticompetitive effects” due to its established pharmacy service. Experts say there aren’t strong enough red flags to ruin the deal. However, the Justice Department, FTC officials, and Congress recently shared that, moving forward, they will be more aggressive and innovative in cracking down on Big Tech companies in the  competition arena.

In both the Senate and House of Representatives, two bills strongly supported by Democrats and Republicans would modernize antitrust law and boost competition from smaller companies to prevent monopoly-like corporations like Google, Apple, and Amazon from favoring their own businesses. Unfortunately, Democratic leadership has not prioritized the bills for a vote despite sponsors’ confidence that they have enough “Yays.”

Privacy Concerns

Tech industry critics are concerned about  Amazon’s easy access to health information if the deal is finalized. Customers of One Medical also are worried and are already canceling their memberships. Why? Because they simply don’t trust Amazon, in spite of laws restricting the tech company from abusing private health information.

https://twitter.com/johnson_brad/status/1550247588506415104?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1550247588506415104%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnbc.com%2F2022%2F07%2F23%2Famazon-one-medical-deal-gives-it-access-to-my-most-personal-info.html

Amazon made no attempt to calm customers’ nerves, though it assured the government and the public that it would abide by all regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that restrict use of protected health information. A company spokesperson said, “As required by law, Amazon will never share One Medical customers’ personal health information outside of One Medical for advertising or marketing purposes of other Amazon products and services without clear permission from the customer.”

Essentially, Amazon can’t cross-market people’s health data. If a One Medical patient portal contains a diagnosis for eczema, Amazon cannot advertise eczema relief cream to that person. All information must be kept separate. So far, Amazon’s vow to follow the law and improve healthcare has not been enough to appease politicians and customers. It can’t have a single slip-up, data breach, or leak as eyes from the government will be closely watching.

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