Ambrose: Messages from the VA scandal
06/01/2014 9:00 PM
05/30/2014 1:03 PM
The Veterans Affairs scandal contains messages galore, not the least of which is that bureaucratically managed, socialized medicine can be a life-robbing political blunder. And, please, do not suppose a system that falls a tad short of that description is not a blunder, too. Let Obamacare bloom, and watch the rationing there.
Yes, rationing, at least of a kind. An official report now shows 1,700 sick veterans seeking help in Phoenix never even made it to a VA hospital’s waiting list and maybe never received a stethoscope’s worth of care.
That’s hardly the end of it, because while the VA inspector general is still studying previous allegations that dozens of veterans died as they went unattended, the report says there were long waits for many who did get care and a bundle of lies about all of this and that the issue isn’t just Phoenix. It is system-wide.
Though these and other details are fresh, the issue is not new. For a variety of reasons, largely the wars in the Middle East, we have had more and more veterans seeking VA help and many getting it only slowly at best even though Congress allocated more money to accommodate those in need. The Obama administration had known much was amiss. Even in the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama blistered George W. Bush’s hide because of a veteran who committed suicide after receiving no care, which brings us to something Obama is good at: indignant rhetoric.
What he’s not particularly good at is practical problem-solving action. He has shown as much in non-negotiations with Congress and in divisive, politically devious leadership that has given us the worst economic recovery since World War II, for instance. A truly competent, responsive, experienced leader might have begun a process to end the rationing some time ago.
Lately, reacting to the latest scandal, the administration did agree to letting more veterans use private facilities at government expense, a tiny step forward as a more fundamental issue sits there. It’s that massive, monopolistic bureaucracy is seldom flexible, adaptive or inclined toward urgency. The VA medical program is such a bureaucracy and has been demonstrating the consequences at least since 1945. According to CNN, that’s when cheapjack treatments in VA hospitals came to the attention of President Harry Truman, causing him to bid an administrator goodbye.
President Bill Clinton, a better problem solver than Obama, was able to effect positive changes in VA hospitals through the appointment of a livewire undersecretary with a mission. But what we’ve mostly had is systemic drag suggesting we reach elsewhere for answers. Avik Roy, an expert writing in Forbes online, believes the answer is letting veterans use government funds to buy private insurance usable in any hospital — a large version of what the Obama administration is now trying — while VA hospitals seek out civilian patients in addition to veterans.
Something like that might work, although it would send chills up the backs of some less-than-studious, big-name commentators who once said VA hospitals proved socialist medicine was health utopia. They would also like massive, bureaucratic Obamacare more if it were a more massive, bureaucratic single-payer system of the kind you have in Britain, another venue of dangerously long waiting.
True, some of the issues addressed by Obamacare absolutely needed addressing, but prudently, in small steps, not by means of turning everything upside down and figuring everyone would land safely because know-it-alls said they would.
Right now, according to a New York Times report, some hospitals are cutting back on charitable cases until would-be patients purchase insurance made available through Obamacare. So if the sickly can’t afford the price, how do they get taken care of?
Here, in other words, is yet another demonstration that our Washington caretakers need to start studying the messages telling them that overly big can be overly bad.
Email Mr. Ambrose at email@example.com.
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