Good For What Ails Us

March 6, 2007

Blogging is going to be hit or miss this week, but I wanted to post these links to important stories about the ongoing mess at Walter Reed Hospital. There are lessons to be learned, and unfortunately many people are getting the wrong one: that this somehow shows that government-managed health care is a bad idea. Nope. Not true. No way, no how.

Phillip Longman explains:

 True or false. Walter Reed is a VA hospital. The answer is false. The VA has nothing to do with Walter Reed, which is an Army hospital. That’s why the Secretary of the Army took the fall.

Yet as the author of a Washington Monthly cover story on the VA entitled “Best Care Anywhere” (and as the author of a forthcoming book by the same title) I know all too well that many people don’t get the distinction. My email box is overflowing with people wondering what I think of the VA now that it has been enveloped in scandal.

From this I conclude many Americans are taking the wrong lesson from the series. If you are left with the impression that Walter Reed is a VA hospital, then it’s just a short leap to concluding that the problems exposed there are indicative of the veterans health care system as a whole. And from that point, conservatives conclude that the whole story just goes to show what happens when the government gets into the health care business, while liberals use the same VA “scandal” to bash Bush.

Look, the VA has its problems. Because the White House and Congress won’t give it the funding to honor past promises to veterans, it now has to limit new enrollments to vets who have service-related illness or who can meet a strict means test. It’s also having trouble ramping up to meet the needs of the unexpectedly large number of young vets diagnosed with mental illness. But despite these challenges, the fact remains that the VA enjoys the highest rate of consumer satisfaction of any American health care system, public or private.

And outside experts agree that the VA deserves this high rating from its patients. A RAND Corporation study published in the The Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that the VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care in 294 measures of quality. In awarding the VA a top prize in 2006 for innovation in government, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government gushed that “While the costs of healthcare continue to soar for most Americans, the VA is reducing costs, reducing errors, and becoming the model for what modern health care management and delivery should look like.”

Let’s hope the press doesn’t miss that “story behind the story.”

Longman’s eye-opening article about the medical care offered under the Veterans Administration and how it can serve as a model for national healthcare is right here.

In a nutshell: A comprehensive national health program, attentively managed by the government, is inherently, vastly better than anything the private sector can offer. The things that prevent the private sector from doing this job are built into private-sector economics.     

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One Response to “Good For What Ails Us”

  1. Bill Bowman Says:

    Excellent point, Steven.

    I grew up being cared for — by the most part –by the Army health care system at Ft. Monmouth. I was born in Patterson Army Hospital, and through age 18 (and actually a little bit beyond, because my eligibility extended while I was in college) I went there for my main medical care. Everything I needed was there, including dentists. The typical visit included seeing a doctor, getting a prescription and having it filled in the hospital’s pharmacy.

    After I graduated, I experienced a little bit of culture shock when I went to a civilian hospital and discivered I couldn’t see a dentist! It was logical for me that all hospitals would be run the way the Army did it. Then I had to go somewhere else to get my eyes examined, and still somewhere else to get a prescription filled.

    I concur with the person you quoted and your conclusion that the military’s system of health care delivery is the best. And it is, in a sense, socialized medicine. Tell that to a conservative!


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