VA’s Single-Payer Disease Has No Cure

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ beleaguered health-care system remains on life support, more than two years after President Obama promised to fix it.

According to a new federal report on the Phoenix VA, 215 veterans recently died while awaiting consults with specialists at the facility. One patient’s death could have been prevented or delayed if his condition had been spotted in a cardiology exam. He couldn’t get an appointment.

This is the same hospital that ignited a national scandal in 2014 when employees were caught tampering with wait-time data — a cover-up that contributed to treatment delays and avoidable deaths.

Substandard care and dangerously long wait times remain the norm for the VA health system, despite a much-touted federal reform effort and fierce public outrage.

Unfortunately, in a single-payer system like the VA’s, the rationing of health care is inevitable. No amount of federal oversight or public shaming can change that fact.

Lack of funding to blame? Hardly

Those who rely on the Phoenix VA aren’t the only ones dealing with life-threatening wait times. As of Oct. 1, 522,055 veterans across the country were facing month-long waits. Another 304,104 had to wait up to 60 days before they could see a physician.

In some cases, simply making an appointment by phone can be an hours-long ordeal.

More than one-third of veterans who dial the VA’s suicide hotline can’t get their calls answered. This failure is especially tragic, given that 20 veterans take their own lives each day.

The VA’s leaders blame the agency’s chronic incompetence on a lack of funding. But the agency is hardly strapped for cash. Since 2000, the VA’s budget has increased more than $100 billion. And while VA medical spending nearly tripled between 2000 and 2013, the number of patients rose by only 68 percent over the same period.

Further, it’s hard to take the VA’s pleas of poverty seriously, in light of its decorating budget.

Since 2010, the Palo Alto VA health system alone has spent more than $4 million on art. This includes $483,000 for an outdoor sculpture of a large boulder, and another $285,000 for a colored glass façade for its parking structure.

Nationwide, the VA spent $489 million on everything from office furniture to draperies between 2010 and 2014.

Waste comes with single-payer systems

Sadly, such waste is part and parcel of a single-payer system like the VA’s. Absent basic market mechanisms like price signals and competition to keep agency bureaucrats honest, the VA has no chance of allocating resources when and where they are needed.

Further, VA administrators have no incentive to spend federal funds wisely, as each year brings another generous budget increase from Congress, regardless of how the agency performs.

Not even the embarrassment of the 2014 scandal – nor the much-ballyhooed reform law that followed – improved the quality of care at VA medical facilities. The number of veterans waiting a month or more for an appointment is up by nearly 54,000, compared with the same time last year.

In spite of all this historical evidence, a VA-style single-payer system remains popular with left-wingers. In a recent speech in Miami, President Obama all but apologized for failing to enact a fully socialized system.

He also endorsed a “public option” – a government-run insurance plan that would “compete” with private insurers on “Obamacare’s” exchanges. In reality, the public option would use the federal government’s ample funds to drive private insurers from the market.

And once the public option is the only option, all Americans will be subjected to the same inadequate health care that veterans have endured for decades.

If the VA’s serial scandals prove anything, it’s that there’s no fix for what ails single-payer health care. The longer the VA health system is insulated from the market forces that raise quality, lower prices, and hold institutions accountable, the longer our veterans will suffer.

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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