“The Best Medical Care in the World”

New York Times editorial points out today,  (See “World’s Best Health Care.”)   “researchers from the Urban Institute released a report analyzing studies that have compared the clinical effectiveness and quality of care in the United States with the care dispensed in other advanced nations….  The bottom line was unmistakable. The analysts found no support for the claim routinely made by politicians that American health care is the best in the world and no hard evidence of any particular area in which American health care is truly exceptional.”

So why do we claim we are the best? It is a kind of reversed prejudice. No matter how good a job other countries do to reduce infant mortality, provide for public health, offer preventative care, low cost hospitals, and so forth – they can’t possibly be as good as us.

Other countries, of course, have experienced similar national pride, and maybe all are subject to some form of it. Athenians in classical Greece called all those who lived elsewhere“barbarians”. The English in the nineteenth century smugly assumed “the white man’s burden.” Our misplaced pride in our medical system is clearly part of a larger, more embracing chauvinism that includes pride in our government, our freedoms, our wealth, our technology, “the best in the world,” we like to say — but which conveniently overlooks our penal system, our racism, our dismal record in public education, our homeless, etc. I am trying not to take sides here, but once you point out the profound irrationality of our national self-congratulation, it is difficult not to fall into the opposite extreme.

So what is the reason for our particular brand of this condition? Surely there is more than one. “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” thundered Dr. Johnson, and there is a point to that: it disguises other, less attractive motives, and serves to project our contempt for others into socially acceptable directions. It also binds people together who might other wise have little in common.

But I think there is an aspect unique to us: as a nation of immigrants, we inevitably ambivalent about the land of opportunity that took us in and helped us become successful. Our loyalties are divided. But one way we can all come together is through such forms of crass “boosterism” and half truths – especially if they come out of the mouths of our politicians. It justifies the painful choices so many have made.