Would a government-run, Canadian-style health
care system work in the United States, a nation of 320 million people? Well, we already know the answer. Just ask America’s veterans — they’ve
had government run health care for decades. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (known
as the VA) runs the largest hospital and health care system in America. The VA employs over 340,000 people — twice
the size of the Marine Corps. And it has a $180 billion annual budget — making
it the second largest department in the Federal Government. Only the Department of Defense budget is bigger. The VA is a true single-payer health care
system. It runs over 150 hospitals and 1,400 community-based
clinics across all 50 states. The doctors, nurses, administrators – everyone
that works for the VA is a government employee. The system actively serves some 7 million
patients — one-third of the 21 million veterans alive in the U.S. today. Sounds impressive, right? But for the past few decades — and especially
for veterans of the war in Vietnam, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where
I served — the VA has been an abysmal failure: inefficient, bureaucratic and sometimes deadly. Among veterans, horror stories about the VA
abound. These stories were tragically brought to light
in 2014, when whistleblowers in Phoenix revealed that 1,700 veterans there had waited an average
of 115 days — just to receive an initial appointment. According to the VA’s official policy, that
wait time should have been no more than 14 days. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Phoenix
VA then lied about it, releasing falsified waiting lists to the public to cover its tracks. Phoenix turned out to be the norm, not the
exception. The VA’s inspector general found systemic
problems across the country. In Fort Collins, Colorado, for example, clerks
were instructed to falsify records to show that doctors were seeing more patients than
they actually were. In Columbia, South Carolina, delays in diagnosis
and treatment directly led to the deaths of multiple patients. The VA program there had nearly 4,000 backlogged
appointments despite a $1 million grant earmarked to reduce delays. And in the VA’s hospital in Pittsburgh in
2011 and 2012, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease that officials knew about for more
than a year before informing patients. At least six veterans died as a result. The Obama Administration’s own Deputy Chief
of Staff, Rob Nabors, revealed that VA health care has a “corrosive culture” with “significant”
and “systemic failures.” The politician’s response to this debacle? Spend more money, a lot more money. The VA’s budget has almost doubled since
2009. They’ve hired 100,000 new people in the
past decade. Wait times have actually gone up, yet not
one administrator was fired for the waitlist scandal. The real solution to the problem is not more
government, more money, and more bureaucracy, it’s more competition, accountability, and
transparency. Let the money follow the veteran. If veterans were given vouchers that they
could use at any health care provider – private or government – they would control their
own care. This, in turn, would force the VA to compete
for their business, encouraging staff to treat patients as customers, not just as names on
a waiting list. Until then, veterans will remain at the mercy
of politicians and bureaucrats who continue to insist that the government can deliver
quality and timely health care despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, The reality is that it can’t. This probably best explains why two-thirds
of all veterans – 14 million people – don’t use the VA at all. And those who do use the VA still get 75 percent
of their healthcare outside of the VA system even though they have to pay more for it. In short, whoever can afford not to use the
VA, doesn’t use the VA. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the system. So, could government-run, Canadian-style health
care work in the United States? Given America’s experience with the government-run,
single-payer VA, why would we even want to try? I’m Pete Hegseth for Prager University.