VA Is A Cautionary Tale On Single Payer

A rookie congressman has an idea for how to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs’ beleaguered health care system. His solution? Forcing his fellow lawmakers to sign up.

The “Lead by Example Act,” introduced last month by Ohio Republican Warren Davidson, mandates that lawmakers and congressional staffers get their medical care exclusively through the VA — a single-payer system notorious for rationed care and long wait times.

Davidson’s bill carries an important message. Supporters of government-run health care should try living under such a system. If they did, these champions of socialized medicine would change their tune in a hurry.

It wasn’t long ago that single-payer advocates heralded the Veterans Health Administration as a shining example of what the rest of the country could enjoy. That is, until it came to light that veterans suffered chronic, sometimes deadly delays in getting care — and that VA officials were covering it up.

After that scandal broke, Congress rushed in with $15 billion in emergency funds. President Obama promised urgent reforms.

All to no avail. One recent audit found a VHA clinic in Houston had been falsifying data on wait times even after the scandal broke. A National Public Radio report this spring found that wait times were worse than ever before. More than half a million veterans wait more than a month for care, and 88,000 face wait times of more than three months.

Things are no better in single-payer systems abroad. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service is on the brink of financial collapse. Its funding crisis has prompted a secretive effort to close hospitals, shutter emergency rooms, and eliminate hospital beds and acute care services. Without these cuts, the NHS will face a shortfall of $26 billion within four years.

Not to be outdone, Canada’s government-run system continues to generate a steady supply of health-care horror stories. Consider the cases of Wolf and Anita Gottschalk, two residents of British Columbia. After 62 years of marriage, the couple now live apart, thanks to their country’s single-payer system.

Following a bout of congestive heart failure, Wolf failed to secure a spot at the assisted living facility where Anita now lives. He’s now recovering in a transitional facility while he waits for an open bed. The family explicitly blames “backlogs and delays by our health care system” for this painful separation.

In Ontario, meanwhile, hospitals are relying on American health-care providers to treat their most critical patients. According to a recent investigation by the Toronto Star, the province actually budgeted $100 million “to send hundreds of Ontario patients who would have died waiting for treatment in this province to hospitals in Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit.”

In one case, a 46-year-old blood cancer patient requiring a stem-cell transplant faced an eight-month wait. By the time she sought care in Buffalo, her cancer had progressed too far for the transplant to be effective.

As a native of Canada, I know all too well the devastating costs of single-payer health care. My mother died from colon cancer after doctors delayed her colonoscopy — a routine preventive procedure.

Yet here in the United States, the left’s passion for single-payer health care continues to burn bright. It doesn’t hurt that these advocates have never experienced the dreadful consequences of a government-run system firsthand. Let’s hope they never do.

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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