July 24, 2009

Few See U.S. Health Care as ’Best in the World’

Most Americans rate the nation’s health care as no better than average when compared with health care in other industrialized countries. Just 15% say health care in this country is the “best in the world,” while 23% rate it as “above average”; about six-in-ten (59%) view U.S. health care as either “average” (32%) or “below average” (27%).

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press’ May 2009 study found that health care receives relatively poor ratings compared with other major U.S. institutions and systems. About eight in-ten (82%) say either that the U.S. military is the best in the world (42%) or that it is above average (39%). Majorities also rate the nation’s scientific achievements (65%) and standard of living (63%) as either the best in the world or above average, while half (50%) say this about the U.S. political system.

The economy is the only item on the survey that receives a rating lower than health care. Only about a third (34%) say the U.S. economy rates as the best in the world (12%) or above average (22%) when compared with the economies of other industrialized nations.

The stark political divisions evident in the current debate over health care are mirrored in opinions about how the health care system compares with those in other industrialized countries. Most Republicans say U.S. health care is either the best in the world (28%) or above average (29%). Democrats largely take the opposite view, with nearly seven-in-ten saying U.S. health care is either average (35%) or below average (34%). Independents have more in common with Democrats than with Republicans in their evaluation of America’s health care. Roughly six-in-ten say health care in this country is average (32%) or below average (29%) compared with other industrialized countries.

Conservative Republicans stand out in their positive assessments of U.S. health care. Two-thirds (66%) say America’s health care is either the best in the world or above average. Just 39% of moderate and liberal Republicans agree. There is a smaller ideological divide within the Democratic Party — with 75% of liberals rating U.S. health care as average or below average compared with 67% of moderates and conservatives.

Americans with lower family incomes rate health care in the U.S less positively than those with higher incomes. Roughly two-thirds (65%) of people with annual household incomes of less than $30,000 describe U.S health care as average or below average compared with other industrialized countries, while only about a third (32%) see it as the best in the world or above average. By comparison, half of Americans earning $100,000 or more say America’s health care is the best in the world or above average.

There is also a gender gap — men (44%) are more likely than women (34%) to say America’s health care is the best in the world or above average. There is relatively little difference in opinion between younger and older Americans. About six-in-ten (61%) adults younger than 50 say U.S. health care is average or below average, compared with 56% of those ages 50 and older.