To Kushner, that signaled a business opportunity — and a societal one. The 28-year-old Harvard graduate is the founder of Thrive Capital, which invests in Internet and media companies, including Kickstarter and Instagram.
But he was afflicted by the ennui that’s infected the latest crop of young coders. He quotes Jeff Hammerbacher, one of Facebook’s early employees, saying, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads, and that sucks.”
So Kushner called his friend Kevin Nazemi, formerly of Microsoft, and Mario Schlosser, of the Latin American social gaming giant Vostu, and they decided in January 2012 to take on one of the biggest, most hidebound industries of all: health care. The way to do it, they decided, was by transforming health insurance. “It’s just a beautiful vantage point for addressing these issues,” Schlosser said.
Starting a new health insurer is a nice thought, but an almost impossible task. At least, it used to be. That was before Obamacare upended part of the industry.
Come Oct. 1, all 50 states and the District of Columbia will open health insurance marketplaces (sometimes called “exchanges”) to serve people who don’t get coverage from their employer or a government program. The insurers in these online marketplaces won’t be able to discriminate based on existing conditions. They will have to offer a core package of essential benefits and clear pricing information. And they are about to see a flood of first-time customers.
In New York, one of those insurers will be Oscar. That’s the name Kushner and his co-founders chose, hoping it would help humanize their company.
“I don’t think we could do this without Obamacare,” Schlosser said. “You’d have to break into a market that’s been pretty ‘oligopolized’ with big insurers catering to brokers, agency houses and big employers. But now we have a direct connection to the consumer.”
The idea behind Oscar is that using your insurance should be as easy and intuitive as using your Facebook account or your Tumblr page. As Nazemi puts it, “We have a responsibility to take the friction and pain of engagement out of the process.” The experience is familiar to anyone who uses today’s leading social networks (the former head of engineering at Tumblr now works for Oscar). But for anyone who has used the Web sites of Aetna or Cigna or Blue Cross Blue Shield, it’s something of a revelation.