The Harvard surgeon and author picked to head a new health venture for Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. has been writing about the quality and costs of medical care for years.
Atul Gawande is particularly famous for a 2009 New Yorker story, “The Cost Conundrum,” that examined why some parts of the country spend far more on health care than others – without better results, sicker populations, or higher labor costs.
The article, which won a National Magazine Award, examined why the federal Medicare program spent $15,000 in 2006 for patients in McAllen, Texas – almost twice the national average.
“McAllen, Texas, the most expensive town in the most expensive country for health care in the world, seemed a good place to look for some answers,” Gawande wrote.
After talking to doctors and visiting hospitals around McAllen, he came to this conclusion: “The primary cause of McAllen’s extreme costs was, very simply, the across-the-board overuse of medicine.” That included too many tests, too many surgeries and too many visits with providers.
The piece attracted the attention of Warren Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger. Gawande “had an article last summer that was absolutely magnificent,” Buffett told CNBC on March 1, 2010, according to a transcript of the appearance.
“You have these enormous variances around the country. And, you know, if you had some really smart people running it that knew a lot about medicine, they’re going to – they could do a lot about it,” Buffett said on the appearance.
Munger thought the article was so socially useful that he blindly mailed Gawande a $20,000 check, Buffett told CNBC at the time. Gawande donated the money to an international project to improve surgical equipment in developing countries, according to the Huffington Post.
Gawande was announced Wednesday to head the new venture after being picked by Berkshire’s Warren Buffett, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon.