Republicans have tried to privatize Veterans Affairs health care since 1946. After 68 years, they are succeeding. In August, the VA was substantially privatized by Congress and President Obama — possibly 3 million of the 6.5 million veterans presently receiving VA care will get health care at private hospitals and clinics. Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted. And we could lose the major example of cost effective health care in America.
Nearly all the Democrats in Congress voted for the privatization bill (Veterans' Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014), signed with fanfare by Obama in August.
The law is a response to the problems with some veterans waiting a long time to get VA appointments. VA hospitals across the national have been mandated to conduct town halls to listen to the concerns, suggestions and complaints of veterans, their families and VA workers. The town hall at the Madison VA hospital will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23.
Private care will cost taxpayers up to 30 percent more than VA health care, which is proven to be of better quality, with shorter appointment wait times than in the private sector. Patient satisfaction surveys are higher at the VA than at most private care facilities.
It's a bad law for veterans and taxpayers. But private care CEOs and stockholders will profit greatly. It is to last only two years but will be extended like every tax cut for the rich or corporations. Then conservatives will argue that VA hospitals should be closed because so few veterans are using them.
It' a repeat of the hat trick President Bush pulled with Medicare Part D and the Medicare Advantage programs. Under Bush, in 2004, they succeeded in establishing a prescription drug program that wastes billions per year by not following the VA's lead and requiring Medicare to get bids all drugs. Congress also privatized Medicare by using the MA program, which places insurance companies in charge of a senior's Medicare. Nearly 30 percent of seniors are in these MA plans. In 2012 Medicare Advantage cost $34.6 billion more to provide health care than if the same number of seniors had been in the traditional Medicare program. Privatization does NOT save money.
So how did the Republicans bamboozle all those Dems?
1. We have a failed Congress. They all wish to be re-elected in November. They needed some issue that they could pass in a bipartisan manner that would get the voters' attention. The fraudulently run Phoenix VA hospital provided the issue. Soon we learned 160,000 veterans, who were new to the VA system, were not getting the health care they needed for months or a year or more.
FACTS: The VA system is overloaded with patients, is massively understaffed and needs billions of dollars of updated and additional facilities to serve the influx of aging vets and war on terror vets. That's the basic cause for the 160,000 vets not receiving timely health care. The VA made an extraordinary effort and sent most of those 160,000 vets to private care. Thus the VA solved the problem for these vets before Congress cut the final deal.
The VA is big. With over 1,700 facilities and 6.5 million patients, it's the largest medical system in the USA. It is the best example of single-payer health care in America. The VA proved that 84 percent of its appointments were 14 days or less from the time they were made. This is far quicker than the private sector average of about 18-day wait times.
2. Bait and switch: The Republicans argued the 160,000 vets were the problem and privatization was the solution. When the VA solved that problem, the privatizers did the huckster two-step, switched and said the problem is the 10 percent of veterans who wait more than 30 days and the 36 percent who live more than 40 miles from a facility.
The new law requires that veterans living more than 40 miles from a facility (2.34 million vets) and the 10 percent of veterans with appointments over 30 days (0.66 million vets) be offered private care. Thus nearly 3 million may be sent to private care.
The "crisis" started because 2.5 percent of veterans (160,000) were poorly served. The resolution ended with up to 46 percent of all the veterans served by the VA possibly being sent to private care facilities.
This law is supposed to terminate the privatization effort by Sept. 30, 2016. By that time the government will have wasted over $25 billion on sending vets to private care, and the special interests will demand that the law be extended.
Citizens need to contact the president and members of Congress to urge them to fix and staff the VA — don't privatize it! Veterans who have served this nation deserve better than to be pawns to make the rich richer.
Buzz Davis, of Stoughton, is a longtime progressive activist, a disabled veteran, and a member of Veterans for Peace. Ian Smith, an Army veteran and a native of Madison, is retired from a career with the VA spanning 40+ years and is a longtime union activist.