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Complacency will make fixing the nation's health-care system a daunting task, according to Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway recently joined with J.P. Morgan Chase and Amazon to develop a new model for their 1 million employees.
Buffett along with Amazon's Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon recently formed the health-care joint venture Haven to figure out how to deliver better health care at a lower cost. One of the problems with the current system, Buffett said in an interview for Yahoo Finance, is that health-care providers and others entrenched in the current model don't have any incentive to change things.
"We have a $3.4 trillion industry, which is as much as the federal government raises every year, that basically feels pretty good about the system," Buffett said. "There's enormous resistance to change while a similar acknowledgement that change will be needed. And of course if the private sector doesn't supply that over a period of time, people will say 'we give up, we've got to turn this over to the government,' which will probably be even worse."
Health spending rose 3.9 percent in 2017 and now makes up nearly 18 percent of American economic output. Last month in his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump called for legislation to cut drug prices. He has also outlined a plan to end the "rigged system" in which people in other countries pay far less for drugs like insulin than Americans spend at home.
"We've got this incredible economic machine but we shouldn't be spending 18 percent when other countries are doing something pretty comparable in terms of doctors per capita and hospital beds per capita," Buffett told Yahoo Finance. "We're paying a price."
Haven CEO Atul Gawande, who is a surgeon, is tasked with figuring out how to build the new model. Buffett said the goal isn't to make money but to find a way to deliver better care and stop the "march upward" of costs.
"We've got a wonderful partnership in the sense that it's large and in the sense that it has reasonable market muscle with more than 1 million employees," Buffett said. "We've got a unity of commitment and an ability to execute on the commitment."