Conservative media are exploiting alleged problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to argue for the privatization of the VA's health care system -- a solution opposed by experts and veterans organizations as unnecessary and ineffective.
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Inspector General Launches Investigation Into VA Scheduling Practices
Wash. Post: Investigation Launched To Probe Allegations Of Delayed Care At VA Hospitals. On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the VA inspector general's office would investigate 26 facilities nationwide for "manipulated waiting times" following "allegations of delayed care":
A spokeswoman for the IG's office said 26 facilities were being investigated nationwide. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a Senate committee last week that at least 10 new allegations about manipulated waiting times and other problems had surfaced since reports of problems at the Phoenix VA hospital came to light last month.
Obama announced last week that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors would be assigned to the VA after allegations of delayed care that may have led to patient deaths and a cover-up by top administrators in Phoenix. Similar claims have been reported at VA facilities in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Florida and elsewhere. [The Washington Post, 5/21/14]
Right-Wing Media Pushes VA Privatization
Wall Street Journal: "The Best Solution Is To Privatize The System." A Wall Street Journal editorial criticized the Obama administration for its alleged mishandling of the VA, arguing that the program should instead be privatized:
The modern VA is a vestige of the flood of veterans coming out of World Wars I and II, but it is as unnecessary as a health-care system dedicated solely to police or firefighters. The best solution is to privatize the system. At the very least veterans ought to receive vouchers that allow them to seek subsidized care from private providers that removes the VA as the choke point. Why are politicians punishing veterans with inferior government health care? [The Wall Street Journal, 5/22/14]
Fox's Krauthammer: Vouchers Would Provide Care "Within Days." Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer wondered "why wouldn't you contemplate voucherizing and privatizing" the VA. Krauthammer asserted that "if you brought in some expert and say, 'How do you attack the problem right now?' you'd give everybody on the list a voucher to go anywhere they want and they'll get their care within days." [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 5/22/14]
Rich Lowry: VA Is "Socialist Paradise" With "No Insurance Companies, No Private Doctors, No Competition." Describing the VA as "an island of socialism in American health care," National Review editor Rich Lowry invoked the specter of the Soviet Union by comparing private hospitals to the VA arguing that "logging appointments dishonestly to hide the wait time ... is how poorly performing government bureaucracies have met goals from time immemorial; it's why, on a much more vast and monstrous scale, Soviet five-year plans were always such runaway successes on paper." [Politico Magazine, 5/21/14]
Cal Thomas: "A Quasi-Government-Private Approach Might Work." In his syndicated column, Cal Thomas endorsed the idea of a "quasi-government-private approach" to health care for veterans, claiming "It couldn't be worse than the current system." [Tribune Content Agency, 5/21/14]
Studies Show VA Outperforms All U.S. Health Care Systems
Wash. Post: VA "As A Whole Outperforms The Rest Of The Health Care System By Just About Every Metric." A May 21 Washington Post editorial explained that the VA health care system continues to have problems with delayed treatment and backlogs, exacerbated by two wars, but "outperforms the rest of the health care system."
But as was made clear in recent testimony to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, studies have shown that the VA system, which serves almost 6.5 million veterans annually, as a whole outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric. Surveys also show that veterans give VA hospitals and clinics a higher customer satisfaction than patients give private-sector hospitals. [The Washington Post, 5/21/14]
RAND: "VA System Delivered Higher-Quality Care Than The National Sample Of Private Hospitals." A 2012 Rand Corporation study reported that VA hospitals patients consistently received better care than individuals in the private sector (emphasis in original):
RAND's study, led by Dr. Steven Asch, found that the VA system delivered higher-quality care than the national sample of private hospitals on all measures except acute care (on which the two samples performed comparably). In nearly every other respect, VA patients received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, and access to follow-up.
Other studies have generated similar findings. In 2010, an interdisciplinary team of researchers published a systematic review of prior research that compared the quality of surgical care provided by the VA with that provided by relevant non-VA hospitals and healthcare systems. Based on the available evidence, the authors determined that VA and non-VA settings generally provided comparable surgical care and achieved similar outcomes. What differences the team did find favored VA care in 3 instances and non-VA care in 5. In 15 comparisons, care was not different. [RAND Corporation, 8/12/12]
National Center For Biotechnology Information: "VA Performed Better Than Non-VA Comparison Groups." A January 2011 follow-up study on medical quality of VA care published by the National Center For Biotechnology Information found that "assessed recommended processes of care almost always demonstrated that the VA performed better than non-VA comparison groups." [National Center For Biotechnology Information, January 2011]
Veterans Groups Oppose VA Privatization
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Veterans Groups Give VA "High Marks ... Don't Want Vouchers To Seek Care In The Private Health-Care System." Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman rebutted calls to privatize the VA, explaining that studies have documented the "efficiency and effectiveness" of the VA system and that veterans groups consistently give it high marks:
Study after study have documented the efficiency and effectiveness of the VA medical system. In almost every area, it provides equal or better care than that available in the private system, and does so more cheaply and in ways that specifically address the needs of veterans. The issues in this controversy seem to be a capacity issue, rather than a quality issue.
Those who use the system and rely on it for care -- the veterans themselves -- also give it consistently high marks. That's why the American Legion and other veterans groups are adamant that they don't want vouchers to seek care in the private health-care system; they just want the current system fixed. To borrow Lowry's language, our veterans like "socialist" health care. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/22/14]
VFW Opposes Privatization Of Veterans Health Care. When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested implementing a voucher system through which veterans could find their own health care coverage, Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW) spokesman Jerry Newberry expressed opposition, saying, "The VFW doesn't support privatization of veterans health care." [Talking Points Memo, 11/11/11]
American Legion: Veterans Rate VA System At Least As High As Private-Sector Health Care. The Washington Post reported that the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2013 showed that the VA health network "achieved marks equal to or better than those in the private sector." The article also included praise from the American Legion's deputy director for health care, Jacob Gadd:
Jacob Gadd, the American Legion's deputy director for health care, said the scores reflect "pride among veterans that there's a system for them that understands their unique needs." He also credited the VA with bolstering satisfaction levels through new initiatives such as its system of "patient-aligned care teams" that provide patients with personalized care from a group of health professionals that fit their individual needs. [The Washington Post, 4/17/14]