VA Health Care Is a Cautionary Tale Against Medicare-For-All

Army veteran Glenford Turner lived for nearly four years with a piece of razor-sharp metal in his abdomen. The object wasn’t shrapnel from the battlefield — it was a scalpel he alleges was left inside him during a 2013 surgery at a Connecticut Veterans Affairs hospital.

Turner’s story, revealed in a federal lawsuit filed in January, is just one of many public humiliations for the VA’s scandal-plagued health system. It’s also a tragic illustration of what happens when government bureaucrats are charged with administering health care for millions of people.

Instead of recognizing the agency’s incompetence as a cautionary tale, progressives led by Sen. Bernie Sanders are eager to expand this broken health care model to the entire country, in the form of “Medicare for all.”

But as Turner’s saga demonstrates, sweeping all Americans into a single, government-run health care program would be nothing short of a public health disaster.

The VA health system has been a national embarrassment for decades. The agency has a long history of endangering veterans’ lives by forcing them to wait for necessary treatment. In 2015 alone, more than 200 patients died waiting for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix, according to a recent report from the agency’s inspector general.

Such life-threatening treatment delays are common at facilities around the country. In December, a veteran suffering from high blood pressure and headaches languished for hours at a VA emergency room in Memphis. That patient was near death before finally being seen by doctors.

Even Turner was forced to wait nearly a month to have the scalpel removed from his abdomen after it was discovered by doctors.

Sadly, VA workers are often more eager to cover up these delays than reduce or eliminate them. In a now-infamous 2014 scandal, employees at more than 100 VA facilities were caught falsifying wait time data to hide the extent of the problem.

The massive public outcry that followed was not enough to make the agency change its ways. A recent analysis of dozens of VA hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia found that 36 percent of patients seeking primary and mental health care had to wait longer than a month for an appointment — far more than the 10 percent the VA officially reported.

Patients who endure these prolonged delays are often subject to grotesque medical incompetence once they do get treatment. Last September, employees at the Memphis VA hospital inadvertently lodged a piece of plastic packaging in one veteran’s artery. The error wasn’t discovered until three weeks later — at which point the patient’s leg had to be amputated.

Unfortunately, such horror stories are exactly what we should expect from single-payer health care systems like the VA, given their track record elsewhere.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has made long wait times and rationing the norm for British patients. Last month, the NHS canceled roughly 55,000 surgeries because of a shortage of resources during this winter’s flu season. In recent months, an estimated 100,000 patients waited in ambulances for 30 minutes or more before being let into emergency rooms.

Accident and emergency departments are supposed to see 95 percent of patients within four hours. They haven’t met that target since 2017. Rather than fix this state of affairs, the NHS announced this month that it would just scrap the target wait times — and revisit the issue in April 2019.

On Feb. 3, thousands of Britons took to the streets in London to protest the crisis facing the NHS. They called for “more staff, more beds, more funds” — all of which are scarce in any government-run system.

Remarkably, Sanders and his progressive allies believe that government-run health care is exactly what our nation needs. Recently, the Vermont socialist stumped for his Medicare for All proposal during an internet town hall event that drew more than 1 million viewers.

As the VA’s litany of failures demonstrates, the federal government is not equipped to run our nation’s health care system. Single-payer would extract ever-increasing sums from taxpayers to pay for long waits, rationed care and subpar health outcomes.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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