Most of us realize that America’s current health care system is broken. According to the CDC, about one in three people die early from a preventable disease such as cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Then there’s the issue of medical debt, a burden that affects one in ten Americans. Finally, the way insurance is tied to employment in this country creates real problems. On average, Americans change their insurance every four years, prompting companies to dramatically raise premiums and restrict doctors from providing preventive care for serious illnesses or engaging in meaningful interactions with their patients.
Forward Heath’s founders, Adrian Aoun and Rob Sebastian, want to overhaul healthcare in America—and ultimately the world—from the ground up. These two Google veterans are no less ambitious than “bringing affordable and accessible healthcare to billions of people.”
Named a unicorn in 2021 with a $225 million Series D, Forward harnesses the power of technology to provide personalized healthcare without insurance. The company’s notable investors include Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, recording artist The Weeknd, Uber founder Garrett Camp, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, among others. Offices are currently in 25 cities in ten states and Washington, DC, with many more locations opening soon.
In its effort to revolutionize the way healthcare works, Forward operates on a subscription model. Rather than paying for health insurance, customers pay a fixed monthly fee. The company believes that this methodology has several advantages.
First, it means that Forward is financially incentivized to prevent you from developing serious illnesses by working with you to maintain your long-term good health. “Go ahead for anyone,” says Sebastian. “We are showing our members what the health service is like should work – focusing on prevention and keeping you healthy, not just treating you when you’re sick. Our overall membership today is quite diverse in terms of demographics and economic circumstances. We serve thousands of members across the country between the ages of 18-93.”
Two, the subscription model can help you stay out of medical debt. Sebastian explains: “A third of our members are uninsured. We expect that number to continue to increase as we continue to expand. Why? Because the system today doesn’t work for people. Some because they can’t wait for an insurance-free world. Others because they are barely making ends meet and have no choice but to become uninsured. In both cases, they demand change.”
There is another important piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Forward business model. The company has moved healthcare away from the age-old “doctor first” approach and toward “technology first.” Every visit to a Forward office begins with a biometric scan and blood test that returns results in 12 minutes. That way, your doctor already has up-to-date information about your metabolic health and potential long-term risks before starting your personal consultation.
Forward also encourages customers to harness the power of devices that can be used to record their behavior in real time and test for genetic predisposition with 23&Me-type DNA analysis. The doctors rely heavily on artificial intelligence algorithms. The result is less need for experts with years of training and high salaries. In fact, much of the office testing can be performed by an administrative assistant who is trained to use the technology tools.
Given the significant amount of venture capital funding, Forward aims to open offices as quickly as possible. “Our mission is to serve billions of people, not just here in the United States but around the world, with quality health care for free,” says Sebastian. “We realize we’re not there yet.” We cannot open locations all over the world overnight, so we have started by building offices in densely populated areas. The question for us is less about if we will launch in any geography and more about when.”
As for reducing costs to make healthcare cheaper and more affordable for the average consumer, Sebastian believes this is a realistic goal. But he admits it will take time.
“Think about it,” Sebastian says. “When Apple first introduced the iPhone, they sold a million in the first year. There are now 1.6 billion active iPhones in the world. The first iPhone cost $800. Right now, in the middle of India, you can buy a smartphone for $20. What did they do? They relied on Moore’s Law and the technology reached the masses. We are working to do the same. By making healthcare look less like today’s insurance-driven system and more like leveraging technology to empower doctors (through body scans, algorithms, DNA testing, and sensors), we can reduce costs and, over time, expand our prevention efforts. , a cheap model for the masses.”
While it’s hard to argue with the dream of better, cheaper health care for billions, it remains to be seen whether Forward can deliver that service. For now, the company’s rapid expansion suggests that customers are satisfied with their subscriptions in terms of long-term optimization. However, it is important to note that at this time Forward does not cover surgery, hospitalization or specialist treatment – so the wise consumer will still need to purchase separate health insurance.
Nevertheless, Sebastian insists that working on Forward is driven by his purpose in life, and he feels confident that he will achieve his goal. “Three things matter to me: First, that the problem is enormous. I want to serve all the people of the world. Second, the large-scale problem must be meaningful. Tons of people spend their time working on things that don’t matter. I want to make an impact. Third, I need to know that technology can completely change the system. Not because I love technology, but because I believe technology has and is enabling massive, meaningful change. That’s how I found out about building Fram with Adrian, and that’s my project.”