How Cutesy startups are capitalizing on America’s rotten healthcare system
In the void where a generalized public health response might lie, we have companies with agile business models and endlessly customizable software to step in and put bandages on gaping wounds. Almost a year ago, I reported for Jezebel about a hangover treatment startup that had gone from home intravenous treatments to Covid-19 testing, a business founded by two straight-out guys. from the university that had received municipal funding when cities struggled to find tests. For a brief moment, they had fun offering home vaccines and tests; it has appeared in the nine months since they returned to focus on $ 300 infusions to treat “brain fog” and stress. The cycle of glut and scarcity has been almost constant since then: recently, the New York Times reported that one of the country’s leading rapid test makers decided it was not making enough money and ordered some 2,000 workers to destroy inventory before they were all made redundant, posing a problem now that these tests are in high demand. So it’s hard not to feel a little cynical about a men’s health company joining in on the action when, until recently, the federal plan was to force insurance companies to reimburse people who ordered similar tests.
Direct-to-consumer healthcare startups were popular before the pandemic. One Medical, a membership-based primary care startup, went public with much fanfare just one month before lockdowns swept the country. Soon after, workers criticized him for putting profits above worker safety and patient care; last December, a House panel found the company was not distributing vaccines “fairly”, pushing people looking for vaccines to buy memberships and prioritizing families of executives. But the failure of the company that arguably embodied Silicon Valley’s obsession with healthcare to significantly disrupt anything has not slowed the trend. In 2021, billions of dollars were poured into direct-to-consumer healthcare companies that offered chat therapy or on-demand drug purchases or integrated treatments. The medicalized model for startups has become so absurdly popular that Birchbox, a subscription beauty box, decided to jump into “FemTech” this year by offering blood tests that would determine the products it sent.
Some of these undertakings surely stem from a real, albeit misplaced, desire to combat the forces that made medical debt the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, or that enabled hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Americans to fail. die from Covid-19. But more likely, we are living in a time when an impressive number of companies have realized how lucrative it is to harness the pervasive terror that comes from living in a country where to fall ill is not only to face disease. , but also to the loss of a job, financial ruin and medical debt that follows a person for the rest of their life. It’s a cyclical relationship: How profitable would a membership-based primary care office or medical chatbot be if healthcare were otherwise easy to access and cheap?
But the long pandemic has instead pushed an already faltering system to its breaking point and provided private companies with more of a landscape to exploit; The “healthcare deserts” Ro says he serves with his proprietary artificial intelligence have grown significantly over the past year. At least 21 rural hospitals have closed, and around 400 others are at risk of closing. As has been well documented, a supplier shortage – fueled by traveling nursing companies offering exorbitant rates to temporary workers and appalling working conditions for people described not too long ago as “heroes.” “- stretched the medical infrastructure to an unmanageable point. As the disaster continues, there will be more holes to fill and more money spent to fund people who promise to reimagine healthcare as a consumer good. In May, LabQ, the testing company that took 90 hours in some cases to return PCR results from my friends, held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new company, a service that collects “molecular and genetic information.” members as well as laboratory results. to “design a life plan” that will “optimize” health. As if what we need is personal optimization and individual choice rather than basic infrastructure to help people stay alive.