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When Government Runs Health Care
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No wonder I am so cynical about government health care.
Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that the Department of Veterans Affairs is facing some care-delivery challenges.
As it goes, according to the VA’s internal audit report released last week, more than 57,000 veterans who signed up for care at VA-run facilities have waited at least 90 days for their first appointments - well beyond the VA’s goal of providing first appointments within 14 days of an initial request.
Such challenges have been around a good long while. In fact, writes Andrew Kaczynski for Buzzfeed, President Obama made promises to address such VA health-care challenges some seven times between 2007 and 2009.
“It’s time for comprehensive reform,” said Obama while running for the presidency. “When I am president, building a 21st-century VA to serve our veterans will be an equal priority to building a 21st-century military to fight our wars.”
Regrettably, that didn’t happen. To be sure, the VA is STILL using 20th-century practices and failing considerably to meet the needs of our veterans - which is why veterans are waiting so long to get care.
Here’s what’s worse: About 13 percent of the rank-and-file employees who schedule VA patients indicated they were told by their superiors to falsify reports to mask the fact that wait times were way longer than genuine reports said they were.
This is how failed government bureaucrats often solve their problems: They don’t solve them at all. They simply force their underlings to alter reports so that the problem appears not to exist - despite the suffering of our veterans.
In fact, says the VA audit, about 8 percent of the VA schedulers kept separate, unofficial lists to track patients who waited at least 90 days for appointments - essentially keeping two sets of books to make the “official” numbers appear more pleasing to VA bureaucrats.
And the poor rank-and-file VA employees have had to go along with it - or face various punishments. VA employees at 24 VA locations said they felt threatened or coerced to manipulate the numbers - numbers that made the 115-day waiting average appear as a 24-day average - and who can blame them?
The frustration is because our country and government organizations can do so much better. And now that this latest VA scandal is out in the open, I hope to goodness we actually solve the VA’s problems this time.
The real solution to the wait times our veterans are facing is to unleash competition and creativity and give veterans vouchers to purchase care as they choose in the private sector - rather than wait months to get into a government-run VA facility. That is what bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate is finally seeking to do - and if Medicare Part D is any indication, it will work.
Medicare Part D is a successful government entitlement program that provides drugs to the elderly. It is successful because seniors are free to choose among a variety of benefits, costs and plans offered by private insurers. And Medicare Part D participants’ actual costs are HALF the monthly average of $61 that Medicare trustees estimated for 2013, according to The Heartland Institute.
Sheesh, what a concept: freedom, choice, competition and creativity. In the private sector, you see, if a health facility makes patients wait three months for an appointment, patients will go to another provider that doesn’t make them wait. That is how freedom of choice works and efficiencies are born.
I fear we won’t give veterans such freedom, though. I fear our politicians will lather up the populace with more empty words, promise needed reforms, then promptly fail to deliver them.
As I said, no wonder I am so cynical about government health care.
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at