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Warren Buffett calls healthcare the 'tapeworm' of U.S. economy

July 13, 2012|By David Lazarus
  • Warren Buffett (here at a 2006 event) says healthcare costs are a tapeworm eating away at the U.S. economy.
Warren Buffett (here at a 2006 event) says healthcare costs are a tapeworm… (Bloomberg News )

Never one to mince words, investment poobah Warren Buffett described the U.S. healthcare system as a tapeworm in the digestive tract of the economy.

This apt but disgusting metaphor does a good job of illustrating how our maddeningly dysfunctional healthcare system puts American businesses as a disadvantage compared with their overseas cousins.

"The healthcare problem is the No. 1 problem of America and of American business," Buffett said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "It’s the tapeworm, essentially, of the American economy, and we have not dealt with that yet. Obamacare is a step in the right direction in many ways."

The fact that we pay more for healthcare than countries with publicly offered, universal health plans means more corporate profit and worker income is sucked up by medical costs.

Healthcare accounts for about 18% of the U.S. economy, compared with 10% in some countries, Buffett noted. "There’s only 100 points in the dollar, and to have a 7 or 8 point disadvantage is huge," he said. "In terms of cost, it’s going to require a huge change."

He's right. If we don't lower our healthcare costs by expanding coverage to the currently 50 million people who are now uninsured and by streamlining delivery of medical treatment, we'll keep falling further behind countries that have already tackled this problem.

Or, as Buffett put it, that tapeworm in our system will just keep growing.

I don't know about you, but if I had a parasite like that vacationing in my body, I'd do something about it. And fast.

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