‘Best health care system in the world’

‘BEST HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN THE WORLD’…. The notion that U.S. health care system is “the best in the world” is brought up fairly often by conservatives. It sometimes seems as if rhetorical strategy seems premised on appealing to Americans’ civic pride — the American system couldn’t possibly be a dysfunctional mess, because it’s the American system.

And if it’s the best, why bother with reform?

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.), in the official response to the State of the Union, described ours as “the best medical care system in the world.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) recently called the status quo “the best” system “the world has ever known.”

We heard plenty of this yesterday at the bipartisan summit, too. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) urged Democrats not to “destroy the fundamental market system that’s made the American health care system the best in the world.” Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming went a little further:

“I do believe we have the best health care system in the world. That’s why the premier of one of the Canadian provinces came here just last week to have his heart operated on. He said, ‘It’s my heart, it’s my life. I want to go where it’s the best.’ And he came to the United States. It’s where a member of parliament — a Canadian member of parliament with cancer came to the United States for her care. They all have coverage there, but what they want is care.”

It’s probably worth pausing to clarify matters a bit, and appreciating the differences between the quality of the care and the quality of the system.

No one is saying that there’s something wrong with America’s medical professionals, our technology, our facilities, and/or our ability to treat the ill. The United States has many truly extraordinary doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical resources.

The point is who has access to this quality care, who can afford it, who’ll die because they lack the necessary coverage, who’ll get kicked out of the system under rescission, who’ll never get into the system because of a pre-existing condition, and whether families, businesses, and government agencies will go bankrupt trying to finance such a system.

And what of the Canadian premier who came to the U.S. for heart surgery? Ezra’s response was the right one:

America has about 50 million uninsured people within its borders. Canada has exactly 13 premiers. People should ask themselves a very simple question: Do they think they are likelier to lose their job and fall into the health-care situation of the uninsured or become an influential politician and enjoy the health-care options available to the most powerful people in the world?

If you’re a United States senator, America may have the best health-care in the world. But if you’re an ordinary person with the same vulnerability to bad luck that we all have, you’re better off being in Canada, or France, or Japan, or somewhere that doesn’t take your insurance away when Wall Street causes the economy to crash.