There are few areas where there is more bipartisan support than the need to provide adequate health care for the country’s veterans. While many of us opposed the war in Iraq and other recent military adventures, we still recognize the need to provide medical services for the people who put their lives at risk.
This is why it is especially annoying to see right-wing groups invent scandals around the Veteran Administration’s (VA) hospitals in order to advance an agenda of privatizing the system. If there was a real reason to believe that our veterans would be better cared for under a privatized system, then it would be reasonable to support the transition.
But this is the opposite of the reality. All the evidence suggests that a privatized system would make worse any problems veterans now face in getting care — and it is likely to cost more money.
To back up a step, we actually have a great deal of evidence on the quality of care provided by the VA system. In an outstanding book, The Best Care Anywhere, Washington Monthly editor Phillip Longman documents how the VA’s system of integrative care outperforms the models used by private insurers. The key point was that the VA system effectively tracks patients through their various contacts with doctors and other health care professionals.
This reduces the likelihood that they will get unneeded treatment, but more importantly, ensures that the patient’s doctors are aware of the other treatments their patient is receiving. A major problem for patients seeing multiple doctors is that none of them may have full knowledge of the set of conditions afflicting the patient or the drugs they might be taking. By keeping a central system and having a general practitioner assigned to oversee the patient’s care, the VA system minimizes this source of mistakes. In fact, this model is so successful that most providers have tried to move in the same direction in recent years.