Optum exec free to work for Amazon health joint venture

A former employee of UnitedHealth Group’s Optum business is allowed to work for the new healthcare joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, a U.S. District Court judge ruled.

David Smith, formerly vice president of product at Optum, was hired by the still unnamed healthcare venture. UnitedHealth subsequently sued Smith, alleging he broke a noncompete clause, and sought a restraining order on his employment with the joint venture.

The details of the venture have been minimal, with the court case giving a wider view into its objectives as testimony becomes unsealed. Specifically, Smith revealed during his testimony the venture is focused on the healthcare needs of the roughly 1 million employees across the three companies. The entity had no immediate plans to offer healthcare options to the wider market, Smith stated in court. Furthermore, the entity may consider contracting with companies like UnitedHealth, underscoring it is unlikely to be a competitor.

Most notable, Smith stated the venture is looking at how it can redefine the health insurance benefit in terms of design. The venture has been on a hiring spree over the last several months, adding some healthcare industry executives.

The judge’s order sends the case into arbitration, with the temporary restraining order against Smith denied.