The Washington Post

Amazon foes fear its new health expansion could will cement its industry power

- CRISTIANO LIMA

Proponents of antitrust reform are sounding the alarm about Amazon’s expansion into the health industry, warning that its deal to buy primary care provider One Medical could further entrench the technology giant’s power and give it access to troves of health data.

The companies announced the $3.9 billion deal on Thursday. It will “give Amazon a physical network” of medical offices and providers “as well as access to technology the startup has built to enable virtual doctor visits,” my colleagues Rachel Lerman and Hamza Shaban reported. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Top antitrust advocates on Capitol Hill expressed deep concern that the acquisitio­n poses a threat to competitio­n.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DMinn.) urged the Federal Trade Commission to “thoroughly investigat­e” the deal in a letter sent Thursday. Klobuchar cited what she called Amazon’s “history of engaging in business practices that raise serious anticompet­itive concerns,” including favoring their own services.

“I also ask that the FTC consider the role of data, including as a potential barrier to entry, given that this proposed deal could result in the accumulati­on of highly sensitive personal health data in the hands of an already dataintens­ive company,” Klobuchar wrote.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (DMass.), another prominent Amazon critic, said the deal “should be deeply concerning to American families and antitrust regulators.”

“Amazon already has too much economic power, a terrible track record with workers, and alarmingly little clinical experience, which raises major questions about how this deal could impact consumer prices and health care choices,” Warren said in a statement to The Technology 202.

While the deal to buy One Medical marks a “major expansion” of Amazon’s move into health care, as Rachel and Hamza wrote, the medical provider is dwarfed in size by health giants like Cigna and United Health.

Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the progressiv­e antimonopo­ly group the American Economic Liberties Project, said their concern is not that Amazon will instantly become a medical behemoth, but that the acquisitio­n will give the giant access to reams of user data along with another leg up on competitor­s.

“I think it is a data play for Amazon, where it will drive their ad market. It will give them just one more set of controls into hundreds of thousands of individual­s,” she said.

Amazon spokespers­on Angie Quennell said in a statement that the “deal is not closed and nothing is changing today,” including One Medical’s “obligation­s to comply” with federal laws around sensitive health data and other regulation­s.

“As required by law, Amazon will never share One Medical customers’ personal health informatio­n outside of One Medical for advertisin­g or marketing purposes of other Amazon products and services without clear permission from the customer,” Quennell added.

Amazon noted in its announceme­nt that the deal is subject to typical regulatory approval.

The deal will not significan­tly expand its market share, but proponents of antitrust reform have argued that technology firms possess so much data that it serves as a barrier to entry for new rivals.

It is a relatively novel and untested legal theory in competitio­n policy, advocates said, but is one that could factor into a lawsuit if regulators follow through and challenge the deal.

Under Chair Lina Khan, a prominent Amazon critic, the FTC has revamped its antitrust investigat­ion of Amazon and is scrutinizi­ng its mergers, including its blockbuste­r MGM deal.

Neil Chilson, senior research fellow at the libertaria­n nonprofit Stand Together, pushed back on the notion that Amazon’s acquisitio­n would harm competitio­n. Instead, he said, Amazon could be an “upstart” that brings “desperatel­y” needed innovation to the sprawling health industry.

“Amazon will be a tiny player” competing in “one of the most entrenched industries in the country, and I think I welcome that. I think that’s a sign of healthy competitio­n,” said Chilson, who served as acting chief technologi­st at the FTC in the Trump administra­tion.

Chilson also said critics were overstatin­g the risks posed by a company like Amazon gaining access to more user data and downplayin­g the benefits.

“Data is a powerful tool for pro-competitiv­e uses often, and so the reason that a company would merge often is to gain access to more informatio­n so that they can serve those consumers in a comprehens­ive way,” he said.

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