Winston Churchill observed that democracy may be the worst
form of government, except for all the others. It should thus be apparent that
the U.S. health care system is the worst in the world, except for all the
others. Consider the following examples. Survival rates for lung cancer are
about 40% higher for the U.S. than for Europe’s nationalized health care
systems. The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 81% in the U.S.
compared to 44% in England. The five year survival rate for women with breast
cancer is 83% in the U.S. and 67% in England where the government controls
If the members of Congress want to improve the amount of
concern and compassion offered by the American health care system, adopting a
nationalized system is not the best way to do it. The rationing of care as
practiced by many current nationalized systems is not the way for the future
nor is it a model that will go down with the American public. The failure to
dispatch an ambulance for almost all patients who are older than 65, is not
rare on the European continent but would be considered an unforgivable by most
Americans. A striking example of this type of benign neglect was the Times of
London headline in January 2006 which read, “Doctors Left Elderly Stroke Victim
to Starve to Death.” Imagine if that were on the front page of the Washington
It is true that the U.S. spends more than most other
countries for health care. We also receive more and we live longer because of
it. U.S. research develops the overwhelming majority of improved medications
and medical procedures. At the same time, enormous amounts of money are
expended needlessly because of our presently accepted adversarial legal
system. Failure to truly reform the malpractice tort system on a nationwide
basis has been an enormous burden to all concerned.
In the last several sessions of Congress, malpractice reform
has passed the House of Representatives. However, the Senate has bent to the
will of the considerable donations of the Trial Lawyer Association and
prevented the enactment of reform. Unfortunately, the issue of tort reform is
not deemed to be critical by the majority of the media who trivialize the
issue. The huge problems of frivolous lawsuits and the need for practicing
defensive medicine is apparently not considered to be worthy of concern.
Examples of how government administered medical care
functions are plentiful in the Medicare system. Volumes of regulations were
produced, and practicing physicians were expected to turn their attention from
patient-care issues to learning how to adhere to innumerable and changing
directives. It was not unusual for billing submitted for payment by Medicare
to be administratively considered either untrue or not medically necessary
until proven otherwise. Many physicians left the practice of medicine because
they could not accept having their educated medical judgment arbitrarily
rejected by someone without medical training. Others could not accept the loss
of respect for their profession, in addition to the government assumption of
There is no doubt that the American system of medicine needs
improvement. However, the solution should not be a change from a
consumer-oriented system to a government-controlled system. The failure of
socialized systems all over the world should provide ample awareness that
changing to models of proven failure is not desirable for the American public.
Members of Congress can decide whether politics will allow them to learn from
history, rather than repeat the failure of nationalized health care.
HOWARD D. KURLAND, M.D. is a Distinguished
Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is presently an
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine and formerly an Associate Professor, Department of Neurology, Northwestern University Medical School. He has also been affiliated with the University of Hong Kong School of Medicine, facilitating education and research on Laser
Biostimulation. He has been physician-selected to be a Top Doctor in Chicago
(Castle-Connelly) and awarded Top Neuropsychiatrist in America (National Consumer’s Union).
He has served as President of Acupuncture Medicine, and
President of the Association of General Hospital Psychiatry.
Dr. Kurland realized the impact that individual physicians
can have on national issues when he was invited to present the findings of his
research laboratory documenting the role of endocrine (adrenocortical)
dysfunction in depression. Since that time, he has had numerous interactions
with both federal and state governments.
His original techniques and research on pain relief
without drugs for both headache and back pain were published and presented on
national and international tours. He is a founding member and currently a
director of the Barr Foundation (previously, the Institute for the Advancement
of Prosthetics), which promulgated the initial licensure requirements for
Prosthetists in numerous state statutes and in Medicare regulations.
During the previous sessions of Congress, Dr. Kurland has
served as an Honorary State Chairman of the Physicians Advisory Board to the
National Republican Congressional Committee. His contributions have been
formally recognized with several awards.