It’s the quality, stupid.

At the risk of sounding partisan—and I do my best to be unbiased in my actual journalism—I have to call out Sen. John McCain for an ad that he’s been running about healthcare. “The problem with healthcare in America is not the quality of healthcare, it’s the availability and the affordability.”

Say what?

Someone had better brief him on the two Institute of Medicine reports, “To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System” (1999) and “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century” (2001), not to mention the countless other academic studies that have followed in recent years questioning the adherence of physicians and hospitals to established quality metrics.

Watch for yourself.

This sounds like McCain is trying to play the patriotism card by insinuating that we have the best health system in the world simply because we’re the United States of America. Yes, cost and access are huge issues, but so is quality. Ask anyone who has ever been prescribed the wrong medication or acquired a MRSA infection in a hospital.

For his part, Sen. Barack Obama has not really run any commercials related to healthcare, but he does focus on cost in his discussion of quality on his campaign Web site.

Clearly, this issue is more esoteric and less sexy than, say, Hurricane Ike or the Wall Street crisis, but someone needs to explain to both candidates that quality really is a problem in American healthcare. Perhaps these two senators are part of the reason why Congress has done virtually nothing on health IT?