Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a rally in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
“The function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer,” said the Vermont senator.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday joined the chorus of progressive voices demanding that the U.S. government reject Amazon’s purchase of One Medical, a subscription-based health services provider headquartered in San Francisco.
“The function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer,” the Vermont Independent wrote on social media, referring to Amazon’s ultrawealthy founder and executive chairman. “At a time of growing concentration of ownership, the Justice Department must deny Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical.”
Sanders was echoing anti-monopoly advocates and privacy defenders who have sounded the alarm over Amazon’s “dangerous” $3.9 billion buyout of One Medical—a private equity-backed company that charges its 767,000 members roughly $200 in annual concierge fees to access a network of 188 primary care clinics.
“Allowing Amazon to control the healthcare data for another 700,000+ individuals is terrifying,” Krista Brown, a senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, said Thursday in a statement. “Acquiring One Medical will entrench Amazon’s growing presence in the healthcare industry.”
The corporate behemoth bought the online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 for $750 million, launched Amazon Pharmacy in 2020, and expanded its Amazon Care telehealth program nationwide earlier this year, among other recent deals.
“Amazon just set its healthcare efforts to warp speed,” Axios health tech reporter Erin Brodwin tweeted Thursday. “Where among Amazon’s sprawling health efforts does One Medical fit, exactly, and how will it weave the buy into its existing primary care bets?”
One Medical “already has its tentacles in Medicare” through its 2021 acquisition of Iora Health, Brodwin noted, “and now Amazon’s got a clear foothold there.”
The Lever reported Friday that Amazon “could use its new platform to advance the cause of Medicare privatization at a much more aggressive pace. The consequences wouldn’t just mean more taxpayer dollars funneled to the mega-corporation, but also Medicare recipients facing a healthcare system with ever more resources being allocated to profit instead of care.”
As the outlet noted:
President Joe Biden’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded a Medicare privatization scheme launched under former President Donald Trump. That program, which is currently referred to as ACO REACH, involuntarily assigns Medicare patients to private health plans operated by for-profit companies, like One Medical subsidiary Iora Health.
Medicare provides set payments to provide care for these patients, much like insurance. This arrangement incentivizes Iora and other privatization entities to limit the amount of care that seniors receive.
Continued expansion of Medicare privatization seems integral to One Medical’s business model.
The company’s most recent quarterly report shows that more than half of its revenue comes from Medicare. This includes Medicare Advantage plans operated by private health insurers, traditional Medicare fee-for-service payments, and the ACO REACH program.
Amazon’s purchase of One Medical “will be a blow to the fight for universal healthcare,” journalist Aaron T. Rose tweeted Thursday. “Imagine all the money Amazon will pour into lobbying to stop Medicare for All now that they have a dog in the fight.”
In addition, Brown warned, the deal—which would mark Amazon’s third-biggest acquisition after Whole Foods ($13.7 billion) and MGM Studios ($8.5 billion)—”will also pose serious risks to patients whose sensitive data will be captured by a firm whose own Chief Information Security Office once described access to customer data as ‘a free for all.'”
“Amazon has no business being a major player in the healthcare space,” she added, “and regulators should block this $4 billion deal to ensure it does not become one.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Amazon’s move to buy One Medical.
“This proposed transaction raises questions about potential anticompetitive effects related to the pharmacy services business Amazon already owns and about preferencing vendors who offer other services through Amazon,” Klobuchar wrote Thursday in a letter to the agency.
“I also ask that the FTC consider the role of data, including as a potential barrier to entry, given that this proposed deal could result in the accumulation of highly sensitive personal health data in the hands of an already data-intensive company,” she added.
This story has been updated with information about Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s letter to the FTC.
Common Dreams, July 22, 2022, https://www.commondreams.org/