This week, President Trump signed legislation that would allow Veterans the ability to seek non-VA care in the private market. Originally, Congress placed “barriers” in the way of veterans attempting to seek care in non-VA facilities. The bill has been met with strong approval from various Veterans’ Rights groups around the country.
“Extending the Choice Program is the right thing to do, but only as a stopgap measure until better solutions are developed and implemented,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at CVA. “Reauthorizing the Choice Act buys Congress some time to work with Secretary [David] Shulkin on broader choice reforms that will truly empower veterans with the ability to seek care outside the VA when they want to.”
This news should be welcomed to veterans and their families all over America, given the abysmal state of the government-funded VA program. The allowance to seek private care should result in higher quality services being given to America’s warriors.
It was not so long ago that one major scandal involving the VA broke from Phoenix, Arizona, which involved veterans dying while waiting for care, while staff manipulated wait-time data there. This also occurred at other VA locations around the country.
Not only that, but an undisclosed VA facility saw a single dentist unknowingly expose some 600 veterans to HIV or Hepatitis. A single dentist was responsible for that. To top it off, the unnamed dentist in question was not fired, but actually promoted to an administrative position instead.
When the quality of care at your local VA clinic is not the issue, cost becomes the focal point. The Phoenix, Arizona VA clinic, after seeing veterans die while waiting for care, saw a cool $28 million added to their annual budget. This is on top of an annual VA budget of $65 billion.
The VA system isn’t the only underwhelming government-ran healthcare system in the country. One of the least well-known, government-funded healthcare programs is IHS – the Indian Health Service.
The IHS suffers from the same problems the VA, or any government ran health service, commonly suffers from. From the Foundation for Economic Education, “As with all government programs, inevitably most of the funding goes to pay bureaucrats and administrators, leaving little money for medical staff salaries and treatment.”
“Low salaries contribute to unfilled vacancies, poor retention, and low morale among staff, causing waiting lists and inferior treatment for patients. The IHS has job vacancy rates for healthcare professionals ranging from 12 percent to 32 percent.” 12 to 32 percent is embarrassingly high. So where is all that money going, and to whom?
These sound like the same problems the VA has faced for so long, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t end there. IHS, like the VA, is overloaded with unjustified bureaucrats pocketing large sums of money, while the average cost to the patient per capita is $2,130. FEE rightly points out that federal prisoners receive double that amount.
While the IHS and VA suffer from systems that ration supplies, “low morale” among staff, and “low salaries which contribute to unfilled vacancies,” IHS has made sure to hire eight assistant surgeon generals, 439 “Director Grade” bureaucrats, and 601 “Senior Grade” bureaucrats.”
It’s not just the “increasing budget for less substance component” to the justified criticism of the VA. There is empirical data to support the idea that the VA (as well as the IHS) simply provides lower quality care than the private market, and does so at a much better cost as well.
A study from the Center for Management of Complex Care was released in February of 2012, which concluded the cost of care for end-stage renal disease, found the “VA dialysis group had $36,431 higher costs than those in the private sector dialysis group.”
According to one study done by the American Action Forum, “the VA spend more per patient than the rest of the health [care] industry” combined. More often than not, veterans thus far have required a combination of VA, Medicaid, and private care to get the care they need.
The Daily Caller reports “The VHA provides an average of just 36 percent of each enrollee’s health care — meaning that those supposedly lower costs should be considered just a third of the overall cost of providing health care to those veterans.”
“The VA actually spends just $4,557 per patient — but that doesn’t include the additional coverage that veterans seek. When adjusted to assume total reliance on VHA care, the VA’s total spending per enrollee is $12,658 per person, according to 2006 data — 80 percent higher than the total national average, according to the report. The disparity has led some supporters to claim that the VHA has lower health-care costs than the similar Medicare single-payer system, but when the actual amount of coverage provided is considered, the VHA falls behind.”
The moral of the story is that single-payer, government-ran medical care institutions simply lack the versatility, adaptability, cost-cutting and quality increasing incentives that the free-market necessarily works with. And it is something that both medical professionals and economists have been arguing for years.
If America wants to see its veterans taken care of, it has been imperative that they are allowed greater freedom when seeking care. And that means allowing them the liberty to seek healthcare outside of the typical Veterans Administration paradigm.
This is also why the American public is seeing such high approval ratings for this piece of legislation signed by President Trump yesterday. For too long, America’s veterans have received too little quality care after spending so much time fighting overseas. Homelessness and suicide in veterans are incredibly high, as well. And, as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans points out “Government money, while important, is limited, and available services are often at capacity.”
Hopefully, Trump’s most recent legislative success will get the ball rolling, and become only the beginning to what is a much-needed overhaul in the overall care of America’s veterans.