U.S. business leaders urged lawmakers on Thursday to act quickly on healthcare reform, saying American companies were losing out to other countries with cheaper healthcare and healthier workers.

The Business Roundtable, which represents the largest U.S. corporations, released a study showing that for every $100 spent in the United States on healthcare, a group of five leading economic competitors -- Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France -- spend about 63 cents.

While today's economic challenges span the globe, companies in other countries may be better able to weather the storm in part because the value that their healthcare systems deliver, Business Roundtable Chairman Harold McGraw told reporters in a telephone conference. McGraw is chairman, president and chief executive of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made reforming the expensive and inefficient U.S. healthcare system one of his top priorities and Democratic leaders in Congress hope to get a bill to him by the end of the year.

The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, but some 46 million Americans are still uninsured.

Ivan Seidenberg, chairman and chief executive of Verizon Communications, said an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system should have been done yesterday.

The United States, where most workers get healthcare insurance through their employers, faces an even bigger competitive disadvantage against rising economic powers Brazil, India and China, the Business Roundtable study said.

It said those countries spend about 15 cents on healthcare for every dollar spent in America.


This is a boiling frog issue -- how long can you stay in the water before you get boiled to death, Seidenberg said. We're looking at close to double-digit increases in healthcare costs going into the future.

The Business Roundtable executives said their study showed that despite the money Americans spend on healthcare, U.S. workers are less healthy than workers in other countries, putting U.S. firms an even greater disadvantage.

The group wants changes that would reduce costs through greater use of technology and other efficiencies and require everyone to obtain health coverage -- echoing proposals made by the Obama administration.

They support plans to provide government aid to help those who cannot afford insurance, but said they do not want to see a government insurance plan that dominates the market.

Most Americans -- 170 million -- get health insurance through an employer, although some buy their own private insurance. Business Roundtable members provide health coverage to about 35 million workers and their families.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and David Storey)