Amazon hints at new health care insurance for its sellers
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon appears to be considering a new business: helping Amazon sellers with their own health insurance needs. Amazon sellers account for nearly 60 percent of Amazon’s retail sales, with around 900,000 active Amazon seller accounts in the US alone. That merchant base gives Amazon a huge potential target for such an offering.
Earlier this week, Amazon sent out a survey to its sellers, inquiring about the types of health insurance coverage these merchants offer their own employees. The survey, which Recode viewed, asked whether the sellers are satisfied with the coverage or would consider alternative options.
“What can be improved on your current health coverage?” one question asked. “Are you interested in alternative health insurance options?” asked another.
The survey also included questions about how much a seller pays in insurance premiums and what percentage of premiums fall on employees to cover. Amazon also asked about the complexity of choosing good and affordable health insurance plans for their employees and how satisfied they are with their coverage.
In the language of the survey, Amazon did not firmly commit to creating a health care or health insurance offering for its sellers and their respective employee bases. But the survey did end by saying “[w]e will keep you informed as we explore how Amazon may be able to support your needs better.”
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson told Recode the company understands that its “selling partners are experiencing unexpected setbacks as a result of COVID-19.”
“Our Small Business team continuously works to empower seller success,” the statement continued. “As such, this survey is one of the many ways we engage with our seller community to explore opportunities for us to assist and support as needed and appropriate.”
The prospect of Amazon potentially offering some sort of health care or health insurance service to its seller community should not come as a total surprise to those paying attention to the company’s many encroachments into the health space in recent years, both on an enterprise level for its own company and employees, as well as on the consumer side.
In 2018, Amazon announced a joint health care venture with JPMorgan Chase and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Since named Haven, the venture is run by Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and New Yorker magazine writer, and it’s currently aimed at serving the million-plus employees of the founding companies and their families. Its goals are vaguely described on its website as “making primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable.” The venture says its hope is to eventually serve a wider customer base than just its own company staff. This year, the company launched Amazon Care, a virtual health care clinic for its Seattle-based employees. Amazon Care users download an app to connect with doctors and nurses for video-based virtual consultations.
On the consumer side of its business, Amazon purchased the online pharmacy startup PillPack in 2018 and has marketed the service to its Prime members. When Amazon first announced some of these initiatives, the news often sent the stock prices of publicly traded health insurance companies sliding.
News of Amazon’s interest in potentially offering health insurance-related products to its sellers comes as scrutiny mounts on tech companies who don’t provide health coverage to the hundreds of thousands of delivery people and drivers who make their services work. Amazon’s package delivery network, for example, relies heavily on delivery people working for themselves or mom-and-pop third-party firms.
But this potential new business line addresses a different group of people who do business with Amazon. The creation of a health care service for its sellers could serve as a third avenue into health care: a business-to-business offering. Amazon could be considering something as straightforward as an online tool to help steer sellers toward health insurance plans that make the most sense for their business, or it may be contemplating something more hands-on.
Either way, the survey is another reminder that Amazon sees the health care industry as one ripe for new business lines — even during a pandemic.
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