By Gerald F. Seib
Columnist, The Wall Street Journal

I hate the health-care system -- but don't you dare mess with it.

That's a pretty apt summary of the American mind-set about health care -- and not just now, but for decades. Something about health care calls forth from the national psyche a deep, almost inexplicable schizophrenia, as the latest, delayed effort to "reform" health care is showing President Barack Obama and the rest of Washington.

Indeed, the quest to fix health care has bedeviled every president since Harry Truman. Arguably, only one -- Lyndon Johnson, when he oversaw the birth of Medicare -- succeeded in making a real dent. Mr. Obama and Congress have, of course, spent much of the summer agonizing over how to alter the system, but this week lawmakers will head home for an August recess without having passed anything in either the House or Senate, largely because of public anxieties.

This seems counterintuitive. People know the system is creaking, frustrating and way too expensive. They complain about it all the time. Yet they can't quite let it go.

Why? Like health care itself, the answer is complicated. But there are five big reasons:


  1. The Marcus Welby factor. Americans maintain a gauzy, almost dreamy image of doctors and nurses. The image of the preternaturally soothing hometown doctor portrayed on television's "Marcus Welby, M.D." is the ideal to which Americans cling.

To read Mr. Seib's complete column, click here.