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JPMorgan’s new health business makes inaugural investment in start-up Vera Whole Health

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A woman walks past JPMorgan Chase & Co’s international headquarters on Park Avenue in New York.
Andrew Burton | Reuters

JPMorgan Chase‘s new healthcare unit has made its first investment, CNBC has learned exclusively.

The bank has agreed to invest $50 million in Vera Whole Health, a Seattle-based start-up that is pioneering a new, subscription-type model for employee healthcare.

Further, through the bank’s Morgan Health unit — a new business unveiled in May after a joint venture with Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway folded — JPMorgan will begin offering Vera’s services to its employees during benefits enrollment season this fall, the companies said.

Vera, founded in 2008, aims to improve outcomes for workers and reduce costs for companies by making primary care teams accountable for the health of employees. Companies pay a flat monthly fee per patient, and primary care doctors are tasked with coordinating all their users’ care. The so-called advanced care model requires Vera to either operate or partner with clinics that work in a fundamentally different way than the prevailing system, according to Vera CEO Ryan Schmid.

“In a traditional model, providers are paid based on the volume of procedures; it’s a highly transactional system which I think creates some perverse incentives,” Schmid said in a recent interview. “In our care model, our teams are paid a salary plus bonus, and that bonus is tied specifically to their outcomes.”

In fact, JPMorgan will be one of the first large corporate employers to partner with Vera, providing a real-world test for a paradigm shift that could tackle one of the thorniest issues facing the U.S.: Despite spending trillions of dollars on medicine, the health of Americans has been deteriorating in recent years.

While the use of Vera will be optional for JPMorgan employees, it provides a “higher level of care” that will likely be sought out once the benefits are appreciated, said Morgan Health CEO Dan Mendelson.

A higher standard

The start-up’s approach involves a more holistic view of an employee’s health than merely focusing on physical ailments; higher patient engagement and an emphasis on mental well-being is more likely to detect diseases or even prevent them in some cases, he said.

“We want to know that our employees are getting screened for cancer,” Mendelson said. “We want to know that our employees are having wellness visits, that if they have high cholesterol they’re actually taking their medicine. That is all about setting up a model where you have a group that is responsible.”

Since it’s not a simple model to execute, only employees in select regions will have access to Vera this year, Mendelson said.

Vera operates primary care centers in ten states; it also partners with Central Ohio Primary Care, the biggest U.S. independent doctor-owned primary care group. JPMorgan runs a technology hub in Columbus with several thousand employees, making that region a likely candidate for the service.

The advanced care model is one that is more common to Medicare providers but has yet to gain traction in employer-sponsored programs, Schmid said.

The partnership came about through a relationship between the private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice and Morgan Health, the companies said. Clayton recently took a majority stake in Vera that valued the company at $400 million.

“This hasn’t been done before at this scale, what we’re doing with Vera in partnership with JPMorgan and Central Ohio Primary Care to have a model focused on improving outcomes and lowering costs for the under-65 population,” said Ravi Sachdev, a Clayton Dubilier partner and former JPMorgan healthcare banker.

“We couldn’t pioneer that without somebody like JPMorgan saying, ‘This is really important for us, we want to be part of the solution’,” Sachdev said.

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