Amazon experiments with travel benefit for employee health care

Amazon is paying for travel for employees diagnosed with cancer to seek treatment at a Los Angeles cancer hospital, meaning the e-commerce giant is wading into a trend of employers that are incentivizing workers to travel for health care as a way to save money and ensure quality.

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City of Hope in Los Angeles has been focusing on cancer research and treatment since the 1940s. The hospital would not reveal how many Amazon workers have been treated by its doctors since its partnership with the company began in April, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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More than 380,000 Amazon employees spread across the U.S. are eligible to seek care at City of Hope should they need it. Amazon's old policy only paid for travel when an employee could not find treatment for a life-threatening condition within 100 miles, according to the Journal.

Amazon employees can also meet with City of Hope doctors via videoconference if their states allow.

Amazon's decision reflects employers' increasing interest in encouraging employees to shop for care as providers and insurance companies take advantage of the lack of price transparency in the system and charge increasingly higher prices.

The e-commerce giant is not City of Hope's only employer partner. City of Hope told the Journal that its doctors recommended a new diagnosis or treatment for 84 percent of complex cancer patients in one of its employer programs.

Rita Numerof, president of health care consulting firm Numerof & Associates, described Amazon's partnership with City of Hope as a "wake-up call" for hospital executives.

"A longstanding lack of competitive and legislative pressure in the healthcare marketplace has convinced many providers that there's no rush to add value to care delivery," Numerof told FOX Business. "But now, with outside sector players delivering low-cost, high-quality innovations and employers refusing to put up with mammoth price tags and subpar performance, hospitals must adopt a market-based model to find continued success."

The partnership with City of Hope is not related to Amazon's joint health care venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, Haven, according to the Journal.

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The companies have said Haven will focus on better primary care access, simpler insurance benefits and more affordable prescription drugs for their employees.