On the Money

Political battles are a 'distraction' for health-care business, CEO says

Health care innovation

As politicians battle over the Affordable Care Act, medical providers operate under continued uncertainty.

"If you're in business, great huge shocks from the political system are always a distraction," Jonathan Bush, athenahealth CEO and co-founder, told CNBC's "On The Money" in an interview. "Anything that stays still for us to do our work is good."

Bush is the chief executive of athenahealth, a cloud-based service that provides record-keeping and medical billing for 88,000 doctors. His comments came after the Republican plan to replace the ACA, better known as Obamacare, failed to pass the House.

Protesters demonstrate outside the White House in Washington, DC, on March 23, 2017, against President Donald Trump and his plans to end Obamacare. After several failures to repeal the ACA, last week Trump stopped federal payments that have been key to subsidizing ACA coverage for low-income Americans. He also cut the budget to market the ACA during open enrollment season.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The GOP plan, called the American Health Care Act, "missed a big opportunity to make things a little more competitive and affordable for folks," Bush told CNBC. He said that many people do not like the current costs of insurance and "would rather not have it."

Bush said the AHCA's intent "was to usher in new competition at the low end of the market. " It contrasts from the Affordable Care Act, Bush says, as "Obama created a wealth distribution infrastructure" for people who didn't have health care "to give them some money and created fines if they didn't play."

Bush argued that "what would be better in a free market is the market goes down to where (the uninsured) are, and the market creates (health insurance) products they can afford that they like that they buy."

The lack of a market creates higher costs, Bush said. He cited athenahealth statistics on the cost of a mammogram in Massachusetts, which ranges from $450 to $1,800.

"Same equipment, same machine, same image comes out. But if you go to the $450, youdon't keep the $1,000," he said, adding that no one knows what the cost of the procedure is.

Jonathan Bush, former CEO of Athenahealth
Kate Rooney | CNBC

But he explains that consumers can make wise spending choices on their care "without the market being all the way fixed."

"Deductibles were not illegal during Obamacare, and they're continuing to march upwards. Which means there are aspects of care that people can keep the money by choosing the cheapest place, that's already starting to happen," Bush said.

Athenahealth's business connects care across a national network of nearly 88,000 providers and nearly 86 million patients. Bush said the company wants to give doctors relief from "administrative exhaustion."

'"It's forms you've got to fill out and bills you've got to submit and codes you've got to put in and appeals you've got to write. Doctors choose us to get half of that crap removed from their lives," he said.

He said his company is spreading digital tools for more effective health management in medical practices. Bush added that the company focuses on reducing "administrative, bureaucratic drag" on medical practice.

"On the Money" airs on CNBC Sundays at 5:30 a.m.ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.