Controversial surgeon Benjamin Carson speaks in Sarasota

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SARASOTA – A renowned neurosurgeon who is not afraid to rattle people's brains brought his sometimes controversial message to Sarasota Wednesday.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital talked to a full house at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall about a wide range of topics, veering far from health care, and sometimes diverging far from conventional thought.

“If two people agree about everything,” he said, “one of them isn't necessary."

The line drew laughs, but Carson does not fear offending people. In an interview prior to his talk, he said he does fear for the character of our country. “For a long time I've been concerned about the fact that we're turning from “can-do” nation to a “what-can-you-do-for-me” nation,” he said.

In what was part lecture and part standup comedy act, Carson told the tale of a horrible student with anger issues from Detroit who went on to become one of the most prominent doctors in the country. For that, he credited his mother, who had only a third-grade education, for making him and his brother turn off the TV and do book reports for her. “She couldn't read them,” he said. “But we didn't know that."

Now he writes books, from everything about how to care for our health, to how to teach our children, and to how to reform the tax system. Our health care system, he said, spends twice as much per person as any other country in the world, but still leaves people uncovered, with a bloated insurance bureaucracy – he called the middleman – between the patient and doctor.

“The middleman has come along to facilitate the relationship and has become the primary entity with the patient and the health care provider at its beck and call,” he said.

Most routine care, he believes, would not require insurance to get involved, if people got health savings accounts, and paid doctors directly.

“Now people have control over their health care." When Carson said that with President Obama sitting two seats away at the National Prayer Breakfast February 7, it made news, with his plea for more personal responsibility conflicting with the president's push to increase government's role in our lives. He drew some criticism for talking policy at a prayer breakfast, and questions about why a doctor talks about such things as education and economics at all.

Carson makes no apologies. “People come along (and say), 'you're a neurosurgeon, you can't talk about economics.' You know what I say? I say,  'it's not brain surgery.'”