Yesterday the Senate unanimously passed The Clay Hunt SAV Act, a rare bipartisan measure designed to allocate resources for suicide prevention and other mental health needs of our nation’s veterans. It’s hard to argue with the bill’s purpose, which is to stem the wave of self-inflicted wounds among our returning servicemen, such as the one which took the life of the legislation’s namesake. Given the modest investments the bill underwrites, such as a peer support program and an interactive website, it’s also hard to imagine the money being squandered by the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration.
Of course, in light of the VA’s checkered history, we can only hope this program won’t prove to be yet another disappointment. Ever since last summer’s wait list scandals at the VA, I’ve been asking myself how our treatment of wounded warriors could get any worse. More than once I’ve wondered why our veterans, the citizens most deserving of our compassion and support, should be shunted into an unaccountable government health care system. Really — what’s the point? Why do the rest of us — even those relying on government financed health insurance — have the opportunity to choose among private health care services, while our heroes must turn to the medical equivalent of the DMV. It’s true — increasingly so — that citizens on public assistance are having a harder time gaining access to care as practitioners stop accepting Medicaid, Medicare, or Obamacare patients. But certainly that fact alone cannot justify keeping veterans on a separate track.
As a recent survivor of a near-fatal traffic accident, I have had an intimate encounter with our nation’s current healthcare delivery system. The extraordinary care I received both to save my life and to rehabilitate my body provides a case study in the disparity between privately managed healthcare and the socialized model serving our nation’s veterans.
In May I was riding my scooter near my home in suburban Los Angeles when a careless driver in a minivan struck me during the morning commute. I was rushed to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where the doctors performed a series of gutsy maneuvers to save my life. In addition to orthopedic procedures, I had to endure open-heart surgery and removal of my spleen.
My wife later explained to me how the various specialists consulted meticulously with one another to assess options and determine the best path forward. They patiently conferred with my wife so that she could understand their recommendations and the attendant risks. After five major surgeries and ten days in ICU, my condition stabilized, I became conscious of my surroundings, and I began my long path to recovery.
What happened next was particularly instructive about the standard of care in the system. Every professional who served me – from the most senior expert surgeons to the food service crew, treated me with skill, patience, courtesy, compassion, and diligence. At no time were my questions or requests disregarded or delayed. At no time did any person mislead me about my condition or the timing and risks of various treatments. At no time did my private insurance carrier Anthem Blue Cross deny me any coverage for the procedures, therapies, medications, and equipment prescribed by my various physicians. Simply stated, I was treated with professionalism, respect and dignity throughout my ordeal by every stakeholder in the private healthcare delivery system. There were no bureaucratic or financial impediments to my recovery.
Compare this experience with the continuing flow of reports about the incompetent, shameful, and potentially illegal conduct at all corners of the Veterans Administration. Time and again we hear about the treachery of VA bureaucrats more concerned with lining their own pockets than caring for America’s wounded warriors. The culture of this government managed healthcare delivery system has been proven to be woefully corrupt. The VA bureaucracy lacks any accountability for its misdeeds because there is no competitive alternative for our soldiers.
In contrast, the professionals at my privately managed hospital and insurance carrier were committed to excellent patient care as a top priority. Failing to live up to that commitment would not only create a public relations challenge but also a competitive disadvantage. Veterans deserve no less. Instead of forcing them to use VA facilities, a better solution would be to grant them vouchers to obtain healthcare from the providers of their own choosing.
I’m not writing today about the disconcerting trends accelerated by the Affordable Care Act, but the top-down failures emblematic of the VA system should serve as a cautionary tale. The more government controls healthcare, the worse it becomes. More broadly, we should adopt a competitive, consumer-driven healthcare program such as the one outlined by the organization Docs 4 Patient Care (D4PC). Only when we stop treating healthcare as somehow immune from the discipline of competitive markets will we truly address the challenges of caring for our soldiers and our citizens.