October 6, 2020

Why We Started Nava

Brandon Weber & Donald DeSantis

"Medical costs are a tapeworm on the American economy." – Warren Buffett

Imagine shopping in a store with no prices. The products don’t have warranties or safety information. You can’t find product reviews online and there are no returns. This store bills you months after you leave and sends you to collections if you don’t pay. 

Sounds crazy? It is. But we’re willing to bet that you’ve shopped at this store before – it’s the American healthcare system. 

In 2019, Brandon tore his ACL while skiing. Uninsured at the time, he began calling around for prices on imaging and knee surgeries. He learned that the price for a straightforward MRI ranged between $400 to $4,000. The cost of a common ACL surgery ranged from $7,000 to $60,000. One surgeon even had two different prices for the same surgery – depending on which day of the week and where he was operating. That price difference was over ten thousand dollars for the same surgery from the same doctor. 

This experience taught us an eye-opening lesson: the price you pay for healthcare is not determined by the quality of service you receive, but rather how much information you have as a patient. We couldn’t believe things actually worked this way.

We spent the next year on a listening tour, meeting with doctors, hospital executives, insurance companies, employers, and everyday Americans. We learned that healthcare premiums have risen 50% faster than wage growth over the past decade. Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. One in five Americans have healthcare bills in collections. But the most important thing we learned? It doesn’t have to be this way.

“The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet” – William Gibson

It turns out that most of what we’re seeking in “healthcare reform” – essentially better care for less money – already exists. Healthcare innovators leveraging cutting-edge technology, a consumer-centric approach, and novel business models are already delivering vastly better healthcare outcomes at a fraction of the price most people pay. 

These savings add up quickly across an organization, allowing employers to provide better healthcare benefits to their employees. Employees, in turn, are able to afford the care they need. The problem is that this innovation isn’t reaching very many people. To understand why, we need to unpack how healthcare is sold in the United States. 

About half of all Americans get healthcare through their employer. And pretty much every employer, from a 10 person startup to a 50,000 person goliath, relies on a "benefits broker" to design their healthcare offering. These brokers determine which solutions get presented to employers, which of those solutions get selected, and how much they pay. 

Benefits brokers are typically paid a commission by insurance companies for selling their plans, and commonly receive a bonus for steering a certain percentage of their clients to one insurance company rather than another. While the vast majority of brokers have their client’s best interest in mind, their financial incentives are designed to preserve the status quo. 

This led us to the foundational insight behind Nava: Healthcare isn’t lacking innovation. Healthcare innovation is lacking a viable distribution channel. The benefits brokerage industry is, counter-intuitively, both the problem and the solution we were seeking. 

Benefits brokers are the key to unleashing healthcare innovation.

We believe that building a better benefits brokerage is the first step in building a better healthcare marketplace. Nava is a benefits brokerage designed to do that. We have aligned our financial incentives with employers and their employees. We have partnered with the nation’s leading benefits and HR professionals to bring their playbook to the masses. And finally, we are building technology that shifts power from industry goliaths into the hands of consumers. 

We are no strangers to tackling industries that, like healthcare, seem “immune to change”. Our last company set out to transform commercial real estate, an industry that had resisted would-be technology disruptors for decades. But in six years we went from a whiteboard idea to a billion-dollar business powering over half of all the office buildings in the United States. 

Nava’s mission is to bring high-quality, affordable healthcare to every American. We're starting with the 160 million Americans who get healthcare through their employer. We know this will be difficult, and may even frustrate a few juggernauts along the way. But with enough time, money, and talent, we think it’s achievable.

Our initial customers range from publicly-traded technology firms to blue-collar manufacturers. We are hiring for every role, from product and engineering to sales and brokerage. If you would like to see what our team can do for your company, or if you are interested in a career at Nava, please drop us a line at founders@nava.io.

Brandon and Donald

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