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Photo: Courtesy of Ro.

Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, is joining the board of directors of health care startup Ro.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on telemedicine companies like Ro as Americans look to balance social distancing measures and health care needs.

  • Ro, which started in 2017 by selling hair loss supplements and erectile dysfunction medication to men, has since expanded to other online medical services, including an online pharmacy for $5 generic medications.
  • Ro says its pharmacy service has seen monthly growth of 80% in recent months.

“The first thing he wanted to know was how are we taking cost out of the system,” Ro CEO Zachariah Reitano tells Axios of his conversations with West after an investor put them in touch.

  • West was also interested in whether the company is helping decrease geographical and racial inequities in health care access, adds Reitano.
  • In a separate interview with Axios about his interest in Ro, West highlighted his work defending the Affordable Care Act in court as associate attorney general under President Obama.

Yes, but: Uber, where West is chief legal officer, is battling California over reclassifying drivers as employees, which would give them access to benefits like employer-sponsored health care insurance.

  • “This is actually something we wanted to change really from day one that I started at the company, and [Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi] when he started at the company was calling for portable benefits,” West told Axios when asked about drivers not currently being able to access employer benefits.
  • Last month, Khosrowshahi argued in a New York Times op-ed that instead of classifying drivers as employees, Uber and other gig companies should fund portable benefit accounts for workers, an approach the companies have been pushing as part of a California ballot measure.
  • Meanwhile, West's sister-in-law, Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris, has publicly supported the California legislation that is at the center of Uber's ongoing battle.

In July, Ro raised an additional $200 million in funding, led by General Catalyst, that gave it a valuation of $1.5 billion. The company says it now brings in $250 million annual revenue.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Health equity and the next four years

On Tuesday, November 24 Axios' Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the importance of health equity in the new presidential administration, featuring Inova Loudoun Hospital President Deborah Addo, Harvard Opinion Research Program director and professor Robert Blendon and GE Healthcare's U.S. and Canada CEO Everett Cunningham.

Professor Robert Blendon discussed the outsized impact of the pandemic on minorities in America, highlighting the severe health and economic consequences.

  • On the precarity of the economic situation: “We have people who were hanging on by the fingernail when there was federal aid, and there’s no federal aid [now]. We’re about to stop the limited protection that you can’t be evicted if you can’t pay your rent or utility.”
  • On how dire the COVID-19 pandemic is for communities of color in the coming months: "I want to be very cautious here. Unless a number of things are done on an emergency basis in the next six months, a lot of Black and Hispanic Americans are going to die."

Everett Cunningham unpacked how COVID-19 has changed the field of medicine, and how the shift to telemedicine can be a part of expanding health access.

  • On improving rural health care: "Irrespective of which zip code you're in, you should get the highest quality of care... [Telemedicine] allows us to reach out to the rural patients and give them that same quality of care."

Deborah Addo discussed policy solutions to address and help reduce public health inequities .

  • On paid leave as public health: "If you know that if you come to work ill you'll be paid, but if you stay home and you're ill, you won't be paid—that's the difference between making rent and keeping the lights on [or not]. It's unlikely that you are going to let your employer know you're not feeling well. We need to help to remove that barrier."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with USAFacts Steve Ballmer and discussed USAFacts' efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 around the country.

  • "We've got a map here that shows how COVID cases per capita keeps moving: we started in the east, then south, then moved to the west. And now there are counties in North Dakota where one out of five people in the county have had COVID. So I'm very worried about it."

Thank you USAFacts for sponsoring this event.

Wisconsin recount reaffirms Biden's victory in the state

Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

The two recounts in Wisconsin requested by the Trump campaign were completed Sunday and confirmed that President-elect Joe Biden won the state, the Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes. Recounts in the state's most populous and liberal areas — Dane and Milwaukee counties — netted him an additional 87 votes.

17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional Hispanics want Lujan Grisham at HHS

Michelle Lujan Grisham arriving on Capitol Hill. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Hispanic lawmakers are openly lobbying to have New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham be named Health and Human Services secretary, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: These members are now following the example some Black lawmakers have used for weeks: trying to convince Joe Biden his political interests will be served by rewarding certain demographic groups with Cabinet picks.

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