The VA Makes American Veterans into Single-Payer Casualties
Sally C. Pipes
Army veteran Glenford Turner lived for nearly four years with a piece of metal in his abdomen. The object wasn’t shrapnel from the battlefield — it was a scalpel he alleges was left inside him during a 2013 surgery at a Connecticut Veterans Affairs hospital.
Turner’s story, revealed in a federal lawsuit filed in January, is the latest public humiliation for the VA’s scandal-plagued health system. It’s also a tragic illustration of what happens when government bureaucrats are charged with administering health care for millions of people.
Instead of recognizing the agency’s incompetence as a cautionary tale, progressives led by Sen. Bernie Sanders are eager to expand this healthcare model to the entire country.
But as Turner’s saga demonstrates, sweeping Americans into a single government-run healthcare program would be a disaster.
The VA health system has been an embarrassment for decades. The agency has a history of endangering veterans’ lives by forcing them to wait for treatment. In 2015 alone, over 200 patients died waiting for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.
Such life-threatening treatment delays are common at facilities around the country. In December, a veteran suffering from high blood pressure and headaches languished for hours at a VA emergency room. That patient was near death before finally being seen by doctors.
VA workers are often more eager to cover up delays than eliminate them. In a 2014 scandal, employees at more than 100 VA facilities were caught falsifying wait time data to hide the problem.
The outcry that followed was not enough to make the agency change. A recent analysis of dozens of VA hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia found that 36 percent of patients seeking primary and mental health care had to wait longer than a month for an appointment — far more than the 10 percent the VA reported.
Patients who endure these delays are subject to medical incompetence. Last September, employees at the Memphis VA hospital inadvertently lodged a piece of plastic in one veteran’s artery. The error wasn’t discovered until weeks later — at which point the patient’s leg had to be amputated.
Such horror stories are what we should expect from single-payer healthcare systems like the VA, given their track record.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has made wait times and rationing the norm. Earlier this year, the NHS canceled roughly 55,000 surgeries because of a shortage of resources during this winter’s flu season. An estimated 100,000 patients waited in ambulances for 30 minutes or more before being let into emergency rooms.
Accident and emergency departments are supposed to see 95 percent of patients within four hours. They haven’t met that target since 2017. Rather than fix this state of affairs, the NHS announced this month that it would just scrap the target wait times — and revisit the issue in 2019.
Remarkably, Sanders and his allies believe that government-run health care is exactly what our nation needs. Recently, the Vermont socialist stumped for his “Medicare for All” proposal in an internet town hall event that drew more than 1 million viewers.
But as the VA’s failures demonstrate, the federal government is not equipped to run our nation’s healthcare system. Single-payer would extract ever-increasing sums from taxpayers to pay for long waits, rationed care, and subpar health outcomes.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book, The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care (Encounter), was published in March. Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.