Warren Buffett Makes The Case For Single-Payer Health Care

One government insurer would be "more effective" at controlling costs, the billionaire says.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett expressed support for adopting a single-payer health care system on Monday, arguing that it would likely do a better job of controlling runaway costs.

In an interview on “PBS NewsHour,” host Judy Woodruff asked Buffett, a longtime Democratic donor, how the United States should address the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Buffett qualified his comments by claiming that health care policy was “way outside [his] circle of competence.”

“With my limited knowledge, I think that [single payer] probably is the best system,” Buffett said.

Buffett’s support for a single-payer health care system, in which one government insurer covers the entire country, was based on the current system’s failure to keep rising health care costs in check. He noted that health care costs have risen exponentially as a share of the economy in the past four decades, holding back the competitiveness of U.S. businesses far more than taxes have.

“In almost every field of American business, it pays to bring down costs,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of people involved in the medical, the whole ― just the way the ecosystem works ― that there is no incentive to bring down costs.”

A single-payer system would likely “be more effective” at reducing those costs, he concluded.

There is abundant evidence to back up Buffett’s argument. Medicare, a single-payer system for America’s seniors and disabled workers, has a far better record of containing costs than do private insurers. Among other reasons, that’s because Medicare does not need to fund a marketing budget or compensate shareholders and executives.

The United States, virtually alone among developed nations without a universal single-payer system, has by far the world’s highest per-person health care costs ― and based on many key criteria, it nonetheless has worse outcomes.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has expressed his support of a single-payer health care system.
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has expressed his support of a single-payer health care system.
J. Kempin via Getty Images

Buffett, chairman and CEO of the conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway, had already voiced support for single payer in May. His deputy, Republican Charlie Munger, proclaimed his support for single payer in the same interview.

But the comments from the investor nicknamed the Oracle of Omaha are drawing more attention this time around thanks to their timing.

Senate Republicans have been struggling to obtain majority support for their Obamacare repeal bill, particularly after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its analysis Monday estimating that the bill would result in 22 million fewer people having health insurance over the next 10 years. On Tuesday, amid rising defections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) canceled plans for a vote to advance the legislation until after the July 4 recess.

With the prospect of Obamacare repeal looming, however, rank-and-file Democrats are warming to the idea of single-payer health insurance. Fifty-two percent of Democrats now support it, compared with 43 percent in January and 33 percent as recently as 2014, according to a Pew Research survey that came out last week.

For their part, Democratic leaders in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have yet to take up the single-payer mantle. (In May, Pelosi said that she supports the policy in principle but that individual states should take it up first, because the American public is not yet comfortable with the idea.)

The party’s progressive titans are starting to come around, however. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gave her most full-throated remarks to date endorsing single payer on Tuesday, calling on her fellow Democrats to embrace the cause. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has long advocated for a “Medicare for all” system and has announced plans to unveil legislation for it in the Senate. A companion bill in the House that has already been introduced has the support of a majority of the House Democratic Caucus.

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