Stephen Foley: Pearls of wisdom on healthcare would be welcome from the Sage of Omaha


US Outlook It is always a treat and an education to be in the presence of Warren Buffett. The tens of thousands who make the annual pilgrimage to the Oracle of Omaha invariably come away with a few new pearls of investment wisdom, and a witty one-liner or two, as well.

You can expect the questions to be especially pointed today, when Mr Buffett addresses the annual meeting of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, for the first time since announcing he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

There are a number of big questions that he should answer – and one that he must not.

The one he must not is the one about the succession. Who will be chief executive after you? Will you not push him forward, so we can get used to him and he can get used to the limelight?

The voices calling for Mr Buffett to name names are growing stronger. In February, he revealed that Berkshire Hathaway's board had picked the next chief executive from the ranks of the conglomerate's subsidiary companies – although it will remain a secret, even from the candidate himself. And then last month, there was the cancer diagnosis, another intimation of 81-year-old Mr Buffett's mortality.

Not that the cancer is especially likely to incapacitate him, or even much slow him down. Berkshire shareholders have boned up on enough oncology over the past few weeks to know that a majority of men over 80 have slow-growing prostate cancer and that it won't be what kills most of them. Mr Buffett will have to skip a few business trips while he has treatment this summer, but his prognosis is good.

So if you think there will be a brooding mood at today's shareholder meeting, I'll bet you that you're wrong. Berkshire investors are a sunny, optimistic lot, in the image of Mr Buffett himself.

As for intimations of mortality, Mr Buffett has been making jokes about his age for, oh, decades now.

For this reason, I trust that the voices calling for a name can be resisted. The transition to new leadership would actually be less smooth if the successor were named now and promoted to a dubiously useful "chief operating officer" role, say. For starters, the overlooked contenders would be disillusioned and liable to being poached. Worse, there is the risk of factions and differences of opinion between the two men. It wouldn't exactly be Blair vs Brown, but you see the risk.

While I am hoping that Mr Buffett sticks to his guns and stays mum on this one, there are other questions relating to his cancer diagnosis that I do hope he answers.

The first among these is why he opted to be tested for prostate cancer in the first place, when the medical community is split on the usefulness of such screening. The second is why he has opted for a two-month treatment of daily radiation, whose side-effects can often be more severe than anything likely to be visited upon you by a glacially growing cancer.

There are no right answers in the medical debate that Mr Buffett has brought to the fore these past few weeks, but in the US these questions touch on wealth and inequality as much as on doctors' orders. One of the reasons US health spending is on course to bankrupt the country is the prolific use of screening and medical treatments of dubious value among those rich or lucky enough to have gold-plated health insurance, with the public healthcare system forced to keep up with that supposed gold standard.

The Oracle of Omaha has used his public platform not just to dispense investment wisdom and to crack wise, but to champion charitable giving by the wealthy and to demand the rich pay a fairer amount of tax. As such, he is already morphing from business guru to political philosopher.

It is time for him to weigh in to the healthcare debate, too, with insights that will no doubt be as smart as they are personal. Like I said, always a treat, always an education.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower