Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Why Haven Never Got Off Ground
Haven, the healthcare venture launched three years ago by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, fell apart because one of its partners began its own independent health services arm that competed with the joint project, STAT reports.
Haven announced last week it is folding in February. After promising to streamline access to prescriptions and primary care, it never created a single consumer health product.
Amazon, meanwhile, separately launched several products and reached partnerships since Haven was born. The online retail giant already had some health initiatives in the works when Haven launched, but it didn’t share its plans with Haven employees and added other services even as Haven was trying to implement its own.
Amazon Care’s launch in September 2019 “blindsided” Haven employees who were working on a very similar platform, for example. Haven CEO Atul Gawande, MD, left in May 2020 while Amazon was continuing to expand its healthcare services. Telemedicine’s rapid and unanticipated upsurge during the pandemic didn’t help matters for Haven.
“Everyone is trying to disrupt health care by using emerging tech to solve for the consumer experience. [Amazon Web Services] owned the tech piece. Amazon Care owned the consumer piece. What was left for Haven?” Jeff Becker, senior analyst at Forrester, told STAT. “Haven definitely got the short end of the stick.”
Political Spouses Jump to Front of Vax Line
Political leaders and their spouses have been receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of constituents identified as being more vulnerable to the disease, Kaiser Health News reports, causing outcry in some states.
In addition to President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and Vice President Mike Pence, their spouses also got vaccine doses. So have many state governors and their spouses, none apparently belonging to groups in phase 1a of the rollout. In Kentucky, six former governors and four former first ladies were vaccinated.
The politicians and their supporters argue they are setting an example for those hesitating to get the vaccine.
Critics noted that people are far more likely to follow the actions of religious figures, professional athletes, and other celebrities than politicians. Elvis Presley received the polio vaccine very publicly in 1956, for example, to encourage Americans to get that new vaccine.
“It looks more like cutting in line than it does securing trust. The politicians can get the hospitals to give it to them under this illusion of building trust. But it’s a facade,” bioethicist Arthur Caplan, PhD, told KHN.
Hospitals are typically not vaccinating the spouses of their workers, the outlet noted.
Maybe not spouses, but some hospitals appear to be moving other seemingly ineligible people up in the vaccination priority, the New York Times found.
It’s not only top administrators — whom hospitals might argue are too essential to leave unprotected — but also graduate students, lab workers, and others with no patient contact.
NYU’s Langone Medical Center, for example, said it would be vaccinating everyone on staff once those who interact with patients had received their shots. “There was no mention of older adults or other priority groups specified by New York State,” the Times noted.
In fairness, however, an earlier Times report had found that features of the vaccines themselves were leading to frantic efforts to find someone, anyone, to vaccinate in order not to waste doses. Moderna’s vaccine, for example, comes in 10-dose vials that must be used within a few hours of unsealing. Hospitals try to schedule 10 people at a time, but no-shows and last-minute refusals may leave staff having to decide whether to throw out the extra doses or give them to other people who don’t currently qualify.
“People don’t hold hands in blocks of 10 to come over to get immunized,” said one clinic administrator.