Private Doctors May Soon Treat VA Patients

June 15, 2014
Martin Merritt

Veterans may soon be able to seek care from private providers for up to two years, if they face long wait times at VA facilities.

Anyone who is considering the possibility that socialized medicine, meaning government provided healthcare, is a workable solution to this nation’s healthcare woes, should take a very close look at what is happening at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s largest, and government-run, healthcare system.  The problem:  Dozens of veterans are reported to have died while waiting for care. Tens of thousands had to wait more than three months for their first appointment.  Worse, more are said to have been denied appointments altogether.   The problem has already led to the resignation in May of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  Last week, lawmakers sprang into action.

Monday, Sen. John McCain, a veteran, took the unusual step of asking the Department of Justice to investigate evidence of "criminal wrongdoing."  McCain expressed doubts whether the VA's inspector general should be in charge of the investigation. 

Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill designed to end the backlog, followed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Both measures would allow veterans to seek care from private providers for up to two years, if they face long wait times at VA facilities.   

Thursday, a CNN report stated the FBI’s Phoenix office had opened a criminal investigation of the Veterans Affairs Department, and not only because of the long waits.  The FBI probe is set to investigate allegations that paperwork was faked to make delays appear shorter.  It is unclear whether the problem exists in branches other than Phoenix. According to the CNN report, the VA has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed care. The report also cites reasons for the chronic problems, which “include the increasing number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bonus system that rewarded managers for meeting goals regarding access to treatment.”

In January, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told John Stewart of the Daily Show that the problem is not money, rather Congress has micromanaged veterans affairs to an extent that any change requires literally an act of Congress. 

If last week’s Congressional action to allow veterans to seek care from private providers is signed into law, the VA will pay private physicians to do a job the VA was already paid to do, but didn’t.  This is not just a human tragedy, it is an embarrassment.  It is also a frightening glimpse into the future of healthcare delivery for all Americans, if a government takeover of healthcare ever becomes a reality. In that case, many predict U.S. healthcare will stratify, and be delivered by two types of providers.

Those who can afford to pay for private healthcare, or insurance that covers healthcare delivered by private physicians, will enjoy the best available care.  Everyone else will likely become captive to a system similar to the VA. This type of system may cost the patient very little, but isn’t free.  Consider the fact the VA spends $4.8 billion in contract fees, but wait times are still up to three months.