Speaking Truth to Power, Sort Of

May 16, 2007

From the Associated Press, Carla K. Johnson writes:

The U.S. health care system is “a dysfunctional mess” and politicians who insist otherwise look ignorant, according to a medical journal essay by a prominent ethicist at the National Institutes of Health.

“If a politician declares that the United States has the best health care system in the world today, he or she looks clueless rather than patriotic or authoritative,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Emanuel, who supports sweeping health care reform, said the U.S. spends $6,000 per person per year on health care, an amount that is more than 16 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and more than any other country.

He also said Americans’ average life expectancy of 78 ranks 45th in the world, behind Bosnia and Jordan. And the U.S. infant death rate is 6.37 per 1,000 live births, higher than that of most developed nations.

President Bush frequently has said Americans have the world’s best health care system, but Emanuel stopped short of calling Bush clueless in his essay and during an interview with The Associated Press.

“I work for the federal government. You can’t possibly get me to make that statement,” Emanuel said in the interview.

A brief excerpt of Emanuel’s essay, “What Cannot Be Said On Television About Healthcare,” is available without registration at the JAMA website.

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