No controversies on our Facebook page are as long and passionate as those concerning health care. The most passionate commenters are those who want a nation-wide central government-run health service. They say that all other “civilized countries” have it and the US is “behind” them in not having it.
But the US does have such a thing – for military veterans.
Two years ago the service was revealed to be scandalously badly managed. Reforms were promised. Is it now a model of what a government-run health service should be?
This is from Investor’s Business Daily:
In the summer of 2014, President Obama promised swift changes to resolve chronic delays and cover-ups at the Veterans Health Administration. Today, veterans are still waiting months to see doctors and the VHA is still doctoring wait times, an audit finds.
The Government Accountability Office tracked 180 newly enrolled veterans to see how quickly they could get in to see a doctor. The results are disturbing.
It found that 120 of these vets waited from 22 to 71 days to see a primary care doctor. Worse, 60 of these vets still hadn’t gotten in to see anyone, and in almost half these cases it was because the VHA didn’t bother to schedule them. Mind you, these are primary care doctors, the first step in getting whatever care these vets need.
The GAO also found that the VHA systematically tries to mask the length of these delays by starting the delay clock from the date vets say they’d like to be seen, instead of when they call to schedule an appointment.
What’s more, “ongoing scheduling errors, such as incorrectly revising preferred dates when rescheduling appointments” — which is to say, VHA incompetence — also served to understate the amount of time veterans waited to see a doctor, the GAO says.
This is the same VHA that was supposed to have been fixed two years ago, in the wake of revelations about chronic delays that in some cases led to veteran deaths, as well as findings that VHA officials had tried to cover up these problems.
In August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly passed a reform bill providing the VHA with $16 billion in extra money. When he signed the bill, Obama called the scandal “outrageous” and promised that his administration was “moving ahead with urgent reforms, including stronger management and leadership and oversight, and we’re instituting a critical culture of accountability.” Obama said the new funds would be used to “hire more doctors and more nurses and staff more clinics”. He also promised that vets would gain access to private providers outside the VHA through a new “Veterans choice card”.
Since then, Obama has kept none of those promises.
The VHA remains largely unreformed, and almost no one involved in the scandal was fired. The Justice Department couldn’t even bring itself to file charges against two VHA officials who allegedly defrauded the agency of $400,000. The VHA only demoted them.
Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that “the number of patients facing long waits at VHA facilities has not dropped at all” and the number of vets waiting more than 90 days to get an appointment “has nearly doubled”.
Whistleblowers who alerted the public to the original VHA scandal say that wait times are still being manipulated.
“I can promise you that it is still going on at facilities across this country,” one source told USA Today. “I mean, it’s sad because veterans are still getting poor care.”
The “choice card” Obama touted has turned out to be a cruel joke, as the VHA made it difficult for vets to use it in a timely manner, and because the VHA didn’t pay some private doctors and hospitals who took the card. One survey found the VA owed Florida hospitals more than $100 million in unpaid claims, for example.
Obama should be held accountable for his abject failure to fix the VHA as promised. But of course he won’t be, since no one ever holds Obama accountable for anything.
And because everything government runs, it runs badly.
In the meantime, however, the ongoing scandal at the VA should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks socialized medicine is a good idea. The VHA is a showcase of what it’s like when the government runs health care.
Almost all the advocates of “free” – ie. tax funded – medical treatment for everybody, insist that it is a “right”, equal to the “unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” proclaimed in The Declaration of Independence.
But Walter Williams points out that no one can have a right that puts an obligation on someone else:
Here is what presidential aspirant Sen. Bernie Sanders said: “I believe that health care is a right of all people.” President Barack Obama declared that health care “should be a right for every American”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Every person has a right to adequate health care.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his January 1944 message to Congress, called for “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”. And it is not just a health care right that people claim. There are rights to decent housing, good food and a decent job, and for senior citizens, there’s a right to prescription drugs. In a free and moral society, do people have these rights? Let’s look at it.
In the standard historical usage of the term, a “right” is something that exists simultaneously among people. As such, a right imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference.
Similarly, I have a right to travel freely. Again, that right imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference. Contrast those rights to free speech and travel with the supposed rights to medical care and decent housing. Those supposed rights do impose obligations upon others. … If one does not have money to pay for a medical service or decent housing and the government provides it, where do you think the government gets the money? …
Congress does not have any resources of its very own, [so] the only way for Congress to give one American something is to first take it from some other American. In other words, if one person has a right to something he did not earn, it requires another person’s not having a right to something he did earn.
Let’s apply this bogus concept of rights to my right to speak and travel freely. Doing so, in the case of my right to free speech, it might impose obligations on others to supply me with an auditorium, microphone and audience. My right to travel freely might require that others provide me with resources to purchase airplane tickets and hotel accommodations. If I were to demand that others make sacrifices so that I can exercise my free speech and travel rights, I suspect that most Americans would say, “Williams, yes, you have rights to free speech and traveling freely, but I’m not obligated to pay for them!”
As human beings, we all have certain natural rights. Of the rights we possess, we have a right to delegate them to government. For example, we all have a natural right to defend ourselves against predators. Because we possess that right, we can delegate it to government. By contrast, I do not have a right to take one person’s earnings to give to another. Because I have no such right, I cannot delegate it to government.
If I did take your earnings to provide medical services for another, it would rightfully be described and condemned as an act of theft. When government does the same, it’s still theft, albeit legalized theft. …
The bottom line is medical care, housing and decent jobs are not rights at all … they are wishes.
If government is to be a father-like Provider, and everyone who lives in the country it governs is to be its child-like Dependent, that government will need to be totally trustworthy. It will care unstintingly – and equally – for every single one of those whom it feeds, houses, educates and cures. It will never abuse its power by withholding food, shelter, schooling, medical care from any of its charges, or by giving better food, housing, schooling, doctoring to some of them. Nothing less than perfect uniformity will do.
How will it be done? How will all Americans be brought to live in docile uniformity and sweet harmony under the authority of a loving government?
None can say. But they can wish, can’t they? They can dream.
Call it Bernie’s Dream.