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May 23, 2014 9:43 AM What the VA Scandal Is Not About

By Ed Kilgore

While the media furor over revelations of potentially death-dealing delays in eligibility determinations and care scheduling at the Veterans Administration is leading to all sorts of promiscuous talk by conservatives about the inherent incompetence of government and/or the need to privatize all government health-related services (presumably including the provision of insurance by Medicare), let’s be clear what the scandal is not about, as noted by CBS’ Rebecca Kaplan:

There…doesn’t appear to be a major quality problem among the agency’s doctors and nurses either, even though it appears that not enough veterans can get through the door to see them. Veterans’ advocates who appeared before Congress last week agreed that once veterans get access to care within the VA system, it is high-quality care. The problem is getting access to that care in the first place.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), the nation’s only cross-industry measure of customer satisfaction, ranks VA customer satisfaction among the best in the nation — equal to or better than ratings for private sector hospitals. When asked if they would use a VA medical center the next time they need inpatient or outpatient care, veterans in the 2013 ACSI survey overwhelmingly indicated that they would (96 and 95 percent, respectively).

Backlogs in eligibility determinations would exist whether veterans were being sent to VA hospitals for care, or to private hospitals with a voucher in their hands. And physician shortages and scheduling backlogs are hardly an unfamiliar phenomenon at private health care facilities.

Of course conservatives will try to use the issues at VA to undermine any and all public involvement in health care. But the only way to make absolutely sure veterans aren’t placed at risk by inefficient eligibility or scheduling systems is to deny them care altogether. Replacing public health care bureaucracies with private health care bureaucracies won’t fix the problems, and could make the care itself a lot worse and a lot more expensive.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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