DALLAS – On this Veteran’s Day we should remember the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. And we should also remember that a year and a half after news of the VA scandal broke, very little has actually changed.
“VA health care has long been a blot on this country. While millions of Americans are eligible for VA care, almost no one uses it if they can possibly get private health insurance or Medicare,” said Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) resident scholar Dr. Merrill Matthews.
Our veterans deserve better, but too many non-veterans benefit from the entrenched status quo to pave the way for real reform.
In last night’s Fox Business/ Wall Street Journal debate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said, “The VA has been a disaster in large part because the people in Congress have never bothered to fix it.”
Why not? “While vets don’t get much benefit from the current VA system, there are too many non-vets who do,” said Matthews. “VA facilities are something of a status symbol for elected officials, who are constantly lobbying for new facilities to be built in their districts, not for policy and quality-of-care reasons, but for economic and political ones. VA facilities, especially the hospitals, bring bundles of federal cash to the district.”
And unions also have a vested interest, since VA hospitals are heavily unionized, which creates extra costs and inefficiencies, said Matthews.
Our veterans deserve better, and should be provided with private coverage, or a voucher to buy it, much like the U.S. has done through the Medicare program.
“When Congress decided to address seniors’ health care needs in 1965, it didn’t build a series of hospitals to provide them with care. Rather, it provided seniors with insurance coverage so they could go anywhere they chose to see a doctor or hospital,” said Matthews. “And then Congress improved that system by giving seniors private sector options through Medicare Advantage. Seniors can choose the plan they want, see the doctors they like and get the care they need close to home, rather than having to travel long distances, as many veterans currently have to do. We ought to take the same approach with our veterans.”
But giving our vets a voucher for private health insurance, or even letting them enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHPB), which covers some 8.2 million current and former federal employees and their dependents, would be a tacit admission that private health insurance is better than big-government care.
“All Congress and the administration did when the VA scandal hit the headlines was to tweak around the edges, even doubling down by providing even more money to a broken system. Our veterans deserve the same health care choices almost every non-veteran has.”