Because of this and other reasons, Athenahealth segued into creating medical management software and online services, and in the late '90s began to take on several investors. One of those investors was Bryan Roberts, a lead partner at a venture capital firm called Venrock. He has been working at the firm now for about 15 years and has invested broadly in health care. After Park left Athenahealth, Roberts continued to invest in companies he was involved with. "Todd is one of a handful of people in the world who I would be involved in anything, anywhere, anytime with him," Roberts said in a phone conversation. "Todd is smart, and passionate, and personable, but there are lots of people in the world who are those things. For me, the quality that sets Todd apart is that he's a creator. He's very good at creating reality out of an interesting idea, and dealing with the ambiguity of a big problem that has many more variables than solutions, so there's no way to data your way to an answer." Roberts said that Park had several different roles at Athenahealth, and as the company grew he began relinquishing those roles. It was his lack of ego, Roberts explained, that allowed him to put the idea first and step away to let others build upon it.
When Park retired from Athenahealth and moved out to California, he and Roberts invested in a startup called Castlight Health. It was here that Park began to attack the cost and inefficiency issues in our health care system with renewed vigor, using data in a way that would foreshadow his work at HHS. One of the prevalent problems with America's health care is that consumers can't compare prices for medical services; a colonoscopy, for instance, can cost anywhere between $600 and $6,000 in facilities within a three mile radius of each other, but because of the labyrinthine policies regarding how your health insurer negotiates prices with your doctors, there's absolutely no way to determine the cost of a procedure prior to having it. Using the colonoscopy example, a person with a 10 percent copay would end up paying anywhere between $60 to $600, depending on the doctor, but because he doesn't find out the cost of the procedure until after it's completed, there's no way to shop around for a better deal.
Castlight, in essence, attempts to be the Travelocity of health care. Learning from his experience at Athenahealth, Park and his team avoided the major health insurance companies completely and instead approached large corporations that self-insured their employees. Safeway, for example, doesn't buy its insurance from a major provider, but instead pays out health care costs through its own pool of money. "So Safeway actually owns all of its own claims data," Park told me. "Castlight can go to someone like Safeway and say, 'Give me all your claims data,' and then reverse-engineer from the claims what all the prices actually are." Safeway benefits because its employees can use Castlight to find the cheapest services, the employees benefit because it decreases their copays, and then Castlight benefits by receiving all the payment data to fuel its database. "There was this one focus group that we were doing at the beginning of Castlight where a woman started crying in the focus group," he said." And the focus group interviewer said, 'What's wrong, why are you crying? Did we offend you with the product demo?' She said, 'Actually, no. I'm sick and my son is also sick, and we have health insurance, but we have the kind of health insurance that has a very high deductible. I have been withholding care for me so I can afford care for my son. But what you just told me about the health care market is that if I have a tool like this, I can afford care for both me and my son.' At which point everyone starts crying, including me."
Since joining the federal government, Park has divested from all his companies, including Castlight. But, unsurprisingly, he has continued to follow its progress with interest. In March, the Wall Street Journal published its annual list of the top 50 venture-backed companies. At the very top of that list, in the number one spot, sat Castlight.
On June 2 of last year, around 400 people gathered at the National Academy of Sciences building in D.C. Three months prior to this event, on March 11, Park had met with about 45 leaders in the health care and tech industries. The two sides had never met each other before, in fact they probably didn't know each other existed. Standing at the front of the room, Park told them that starting within the next few days, his team would begin releasing massive amounts of health care data across all the various agencies under HHS (some of it had already been released, but in obscure locations not easily accessible). Their task, if they chose to accept it, would be to spend the next 90 days building technology tools around that data. The ones that succeeded would be able to present their creations at the National Academy of Sciences for what had been named the Community Health Data Initiative Forum.