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Brainstorm Health: Jamie Dimon on Amazon/JPM/Berkshire, Opioid Treatment Costs, AbbVie Humira Deal

Hello, readers! This is Sy.

The prospect of Amazon entering the medical arena may have, at least in part, helped set off a flurry of dealmaking among insurers, pharmacy benefits managers, and even retailers. The rumbles inched closer to reality when a joint health care venture between JPMorgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and the tech giant was announced at the beginning of this year.

This joint venture’s purpose is largely aspirational. In essence, the three firms want to pool their resources—which include about one million employees, their health care costs, and data—in a bid to reduce costs and improve actual health outcomes. Countless organizations have attempted to tackle this particular dragon. So the big question is: How exactly will this big-name trio succeed where so many have failed, in a system where care is still strikingly expensive while delivering mediocre outcomes?

We got at least a few more details on how the venture wants to achieve those goals from JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon himself in his annual shareholder letter released Thursday. It’s by no means a comprehensive action plan; but Dimon’s statements pull back the curtain at least a little bit.

Here’s one major takeaway: Nothing is going to materialize anytime soon. “The effort will start very small, but there is much to do, and we are optimistic,” wrote Dimon. The overall ambitions remain pretty bold, though, according to Dimon. The consortium will tackle issues like: making payment incentives line up with health outcomes; reducing waste and fraud; examining the use of high-cost drugs (including whether they’re over-used or under-used); increasing employees’ easy access to personal health care data; boosting corporate wellness programs; and even taking a look at end-of-life care, which Dimon notes may involve unnecessary and burdensome medical services that patients may not actually want in the first place.

That’s a pretty big mix of controversial, difficult-to-solve issues. But Dimon’s letter does provide some specific criteria by which to judge the Amazon/JPMorgan/Berkshire experiment.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Brain stimulation to treat depression. A group of researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia is conducting a pretty personalized (and electric) depression study: The team is electrodes to keep real-time tabs on brain activity and electrical stimulation which may help treat depression. “By tuning groups of neurons to specific frequencies, the team will attempt to alleviate people’s depression and other mood disorders,” writes Nature. “The Monash team is one of several around the world experimenting with such ‘closed loop’ systems — where stimulation is directed by the patient’s brain activity, which is in turn altered by the stimulation.” (Nature)


AbbVie gets some breathing room from Biogen’s Humira copycat. Biotech giant AbbVie continues its aggressive moves to protect its lucrative, flagship product—Humira, a drug that brings in somewhere between $16 billion and $18 billion in worldwide sales each year. AbbVie has struck a deal with rivals Biogen and Samsung Bioepis (who are partnered together) that will in effect delay the latter companies’ copycat of Humira from reaching the U.S. market until 2023. AbbVie has made similar moves before with other competitors; it may have become more crucial following a clinical trial setback for an experimental cancer drug the company hopes will help make up for Humira’s patent expiration. (Reuters) 


The cost of the opioid epidemic. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that employers are taking billions in a financial hit driven by the opioid epidemic. In 2016, Americans with large employer provided health insurance used more than $2.6 billion in opioid treatment services—or nearly ten times the amount used 10 years ago. More than half of these costs were used to cover employees’ children (and the treatment costs are continuing to rise sharply despite a falling overall number of opioid prescriptions). (Fortune)

Surgeon General urges Americans to carry naloxone. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Thursday encouraged more Americans to carry naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote—particularly if a loved one is at risk for an overdose. (NPR)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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