COMMENTARY | They served their nation and, when they needed help in return, the help was not there. A political firestorm is raging over the VA scandal, with investigate reporting last month revealing an unbelievable backlog at VA clinics. According to CNN, the story spread from VA “cooking the books” in Phoenix to many VA hospitals across the nation. Now, Congress wants answers and has called on Department of Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, to report. By all accounts, things are looking bad for the VA, which has long been known as a vast and bloated bureaucracy.
With millions of former military personnel not receiving timely medical care, commentators have had a field day. While there’s certainly been no love for the VA, many commentators are using the scandal as a springboard to attack government-run health care in general. It’s not a stretch to imagine Republicans trying to link the VA scandal and Obamacare as we get closer to midterm elections in November.
However, the VA scandal actually points to the need for more government-run health care, not less, and here is why:
First, with more citizens living longer we must acknowledge that we cannot go back, only forward, in terms of government-run medical care. The VA has been saddled with many of the same issues as health care in general, meaning an aging population with increasing health care needs. In order to decrease the role of government in health care we would have to leave many aging Baby Boomers, including veterans, to their own devices. With a looming retirement crisis, where many Baby Boomers have saved far too little for retirement, it would be agony to reduce the role of Medicare. Many retirees can only count on government’s Medicare – paying out-of-pocket would quickly bankrupt them.
If we cannot go back, we must go forward and try to create a workable single-payer health care system, similar to what already exists in Canada and Britain.
We are outraged over VA incompetency, but private health care would likely fare no better with a massive influx of veterans. Critics of the VA have said we should just allow all veterans to go to private doctors, with those doctors reimbursed by the government…just like Medicare. However, with Medicare overbilling scandals rampant, there is little reason to believe that moving millions of veterans to Medicare would improve efficiency. Medicare will already be overtaxed in coming years as more and more Baby Boomers retire, making it likely that even that system will prove unworkable.
Since Medicare will become even more inefficient with the influx of Baby Boomers, we should seize this opportunity to explore true single-payer systems. The VA messed up. Bad. But we can learn how to do better, not simply scrap the system. We now have a case study we can use to develop something that works. Insisting on privatization will be an opportunity lost, since all indicators point to the fact that for-profit health care will be economically unsustainable in its current form – we would simply be prolonging a harmful health care model.
Putting everyone under one health-care roof will improve accountability. It’s hard to suggest we need to go bigger after something collapses, but that is what we should do. Part of the reason the VA grew so inept and corrupt was likely its lack of transparency, which occurred because there were not enough outside observers. Much has been made of America’s increasingly distant and complicated relationship with its military and its veterans. With no draft, we civilians often view the military as a distant, confusing apparatus. We don’t worry about its workings because we don’t have to.
Government-run health care is a reality. The VA exists and cannot not exist. Medicare exists and cannot not exist. We cannot return to full privatization and doom millions of retirees and veterans to bankruptcy from for-profit health care costs. Since we cannot do this, we should take the plunge and move everyone in under one roof.
If we have a single-payer health care system we will have transparency and accountability because people will all care about its success and force the necessary reforms. Currently, we are in a half-butted quagmire because those who have the clout, mainly wealthy non-veterans, do not care as much about the operations of the VA or Medicare. Stick everyone in it together and those with clout have to care. And that’s when things get done.