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Aetna CEO: Warren Buffett's 'tapeworm' analogy fits — health-care costs squeeze the economy for trillions

  • "Fifty percent of the American population has a chronic disease. They drive 86 percent of our cost," Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini says.
  • Bertolini adds that a person's ZIP code has a 60 percent impact on their life expectancy.
  • In collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, U.S. News & World Report unveils its first-ever ranking of healthiest communities in the U.S.

Rising health-care cost are squeezing the U.S. economy for trillions of dollars, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC on Monday.

"Warren Buffett said health care is a 'tapeworm' on the U.S. economy. It's true," said Bertolini, whose health insurance company produced more than $63 billion in 2016 revenue and serves an estimated 44.6 million people.

"Fifty percent of the American population has a chronic disease. They drive 86 percent of our cost," Bertolini told "Squawk Box." "So, $3.2 trillion, 86 percent of that is what — $2.6 trillion [or] $2.7 trillion?" he said.

Berkshire Hathaway's Buffett told CNBC last month that health-care spending is a "tapeworm on the economic system." His venture with Amazon's Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon, announced in late January, is designed to cut health costs and improve services for the three companies' U.S. employees.

Earlier this month, shareholders approved CVS Health's $69 billion buyout of Aetna as health-care companies, including insurers, are searching for ways to lower costs.

Aetna's deal with CVS, pending regulatory approval, could help communities with poorer health, Bertolini said. "If we can get into the community and we can make the investments there, it's cheaper," he said. "We can win by just keeping people away from an emergency room visit."

A person's ZIP code has a 60 percent impact on their life expectancy, he added.

So to inform consumers about the commitment to healthy living in their areas, the health-care giant's charitable and philanthropic arm, the Aetna Foundation, partnered with U.S. News & World Report to rank the healthiest communities in America.

Their first-ever rankings, announced Monday, evaluated nearly 3,000 communities nationwide across 10 categories, including education, population health and economic conditions.

The top five healthiest communities all scored above the national average in at least nine of the 10 categories evaluated, U.S. News said. Falls Church, Virginia, is No. 1, ranking in the top three communities nationally for education, economy and public safety.

Below are the 2018 top 10 'Healthiest Communities'

1. Falls Church, Virginia
2. Douglas County, Colorado
3. Broomfield County, Colorado
4. Los Alamos County, New Mexico
5. Dukes County, Massachusetts
6. Fairfax city, Virginia
7. Hamilton County, Indiana
8. Routt County, Colorado
9. Ouray County, Colorado
10. Loudoun County, Virginia

Virginia and Colorado's communities dominated the top 10. Together, the two states have an average of 62 primary care doctors for every 100 people. They also have an average life expectancy that is more than a year longer than the national average, U.S. News said.

Health-care spending is higher in areas with poorer health, Eric Gertler, chairman of U.S. News, told CNBC on Monday. Gertler, alongside Bertolini, said the companies began the ranking in part to offer further insights into the nation's health and how to improve it.

Echoing Bertolini, Gertler said, "Your ZIP code today is as important as your genetic code."

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