By Anna Wilde Mathews and David Benoit 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2020).

Atul Gawande is in advanced discussions to step down as chief executive and take on a less operational role as chairman of Haven, the health-care venture backed by Amazon.com Inc., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Dr. Gawande, a prominent surgeon and professor at Harvard University, wants to move away from day-to-day management of Haven and focus more on policy and advocacy work, particularly related to the current coronavirus pandemic, the people said.

Haven has launched a search for a new CEO, but has yet to settle on a candidate, the people said. There hasn't been a final decision on the leadership structure, the people cautioned.

His transition suggests the health-care venture's slow start since its splashy unveiling in January 2018. The venture has shown few public signs of impact, after its announcement by the three parent companies rattled health-care investors and pushed down the shares of major insurers.

The founding companies framed the venture as an altruistic effort to overhaul health care, reining in costs and improving outcomes, and said they would start with their own employees.

Dr. Gawande took the helm of Haven in July 2018.

Despite the initial hype, the venture's efforts so far have been of limited scope. It has launched pilot projects testing health-benefits approaches. This included a program for around 30,000 JPMorgan employees in Ohio and Arizona, who were given a menu of flat costs for health-care services, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Haven has been spending much of its early time building data systems on employee health-care tendencies across the three companies, these people said.

An author known for his work on health-care quality, Dr. Gawande was a high-profile choice to lead the venture. His hiring was seen as a signal that the partners' ambitions were set higher than conventional tweaks to health coverage.

Yet Dr. Gawande, who kept his Harvard University professorship and continued to write for the New Yorker magazine, had little background in the operational nitty gritty of health insurance or running a major company. That may have led to stumbles in the venture's efforts to craft transformative programs, different people familiar with the matter have said.

Dr. Gawande chose a gradual approach of testing ideas at smaller scale first, a person with knowledge of the discussions said.

Last year, the company lost its chief operating officer and Dr. Gawande had been seeking someone to take more operational responsibility, the people with knowledge of the talks said.

The venture was initially seen as a threat by traditional health companies. Some even complained to JPMorgan about the partnership, and Chief Executive James Dimon got involved personally to speak with some health-care executives and allay fears the bank would be competing with them.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., sued to block a former employee of its Optum health-services unit who went to work for the venture, but a judge declined to issue a restraining order. UnitedHealth is also the parent of the largest U.S. health insurer.

Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at anna.mathews@wsj.com and David Benoit at david.benoit@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 09, 2020 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

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