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Hospitals, health insurers, and other provider-related companies are returning in person to the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference for the first time since the coronavirus upended the health care economy. But the more things have changed since then, the more they have stayed the same.

Health care gobbled up 18.3% of the U.S. economy by the end of 2021, according to the latest data from federal actuaries. That was up from 17.6% in 2019, reinforcing billionaire Warren Buffett’s characterization of the health care system as a “tapeworm.” Of the $4.2 trillion Americans spent on health care in 2021, almost 60% went toward hospitals, outpatient centers, and doctors — nearly identical to prior years.


In other words, spending on hospitals and physician care didn’t slow down even though admissions and procedures have receded since the pandemic. Health insurers also have been big beneficiaries of those lower volumes, pocketing record profits and paydays. Now, the industry’s largest players will use the stages at JPM and other surrounding events to tell investors, financiers, and peers whether they should continue to expect more of the same — and whether it will keep coming at the expense of workers’ paychecks and taxes.

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