Sitting around with friends at a barbeque Sunday afternoon, I had to bite my tongue as the group discussion meandered into the issue of veterans’ healthcare.
The liberal friends gathered around the circle recited the horror stories of Iraq War veterans who were told they’d receive full healthcare benefits only to return home mentally ill and kill their families and so on. True or not, I wanted to ask these folks a simple question. How could they simultaneously criticize the healthcare our government gives to veterans while supporting the idea of a universal healthcare system run by that same government?
Before the American people today stand two philosophies for providing healthcare to all Americans.
One school of thought, championed by liberals like Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton would apply the VA model for healthcare to everyone with one single-payer, that payer being the government. The other approach, championed by Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a market-based approach like the G.I. Bill, setting minimum standards of coverage and allowing people to choose the healthcare plan which best suits their situation.
I’m not a healthcare expert like others, but I do know that when it comes to government policy, we should not pay heed to the warning we hear in mutual fund ads: Past performance is indicative of future results. Besides, there’s an alternative model to use.
Following World War II, the government set about to make sure our veterans got access to higher education and to health care.
Rather than creating a university systems just for vets, the U.S. Congress passed the G.I. Bill, essentially giving veterans what amounted to school vouchers to pursue a university degree. Under the G.I. Bill, millions of veteran – from WWII, Korea and Vietnam – have gotten a higher education. Some went to Harvard, others pursued occupational training but each received education according to their need.
On the other hand, when it came to providing healthcare, the government chose to create a network of hospitals under the Veterans Administration. As my friends’ comments indicate, the Veterans Health Administration has not had the success of the GI Bill. The centerpiece of veterans care, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is in worse shape than your local No-Tell Motel. That scandal has led Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson to resign.
If a veteran wants – you know, actual health care – without having to wait weeks or months for that “elective” surgery to repair his hip, the only option would be to pay out-of-pocket and go to a private hospital.
Some folks just need a physical once a year and urgent care when necessary, while others need a stack of prescriptions. The very nature of the kinds of demands and their variety makes the idea of a one-size fits all plan for health care laughable.
While past performance may not be indicative of future results, when my health is on the line, I’d rather hedge my bets by betting against the goverment-run model we know to be an abject failure.
Clarification: An earlier version of this piece referred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as part of the VA, which of course, it is not, being an Army Medical Center. Thanks to Matthew Holt for pointing me through the confusion caused by the Associated Press article on the reasons for Nicholson’s resignation.
Editor’s Note: Spot-on’s health care writer Matthew Holt disagrees with Scott Olin Schmidt and he’s put it in writing. You can read that post, which further clarifies Walter Reed’s place in the government bureuacracy, here.