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Originally published June 16, 2014 at 4:39 PM | Page modified June 16, 2014 at 6:01 PM

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Guest: VA wait-lists a result of socialized health care

The Veterans Affairs is an example of completely socialized medicine, writes guest columnist Roger Stark.

Special to The Times

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PROPONENTS of government-controlled health care are fond of pointing to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system as a good example of efficiency and quality care. It turns out that VA hospitals are indeed typical of centrally planned, government-run facilities, which lead to excessive wait times and rationing of care.

Although initiated by complaints from VA hospitals in Phoenix, a recently released report by the VA’s independent inspector general revealed improper scheduling “schemes” that were “systemic” and nationwide. In Phoenix alone, at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care. In a sample of 226 vets at the same facility, officials falsely claimed an average wait of 24 days, when in actuality the wait was 115 days on average.

Theoretically, every veteran in the VA system has health insurance. Yet, because of long waiting times, they don’t actually receive care in a timely fashion. For veterans, health care is rationed by the government bureaucracy.

The VA system is not only a single-payer system, but is, in fact, an example of completely socialized medicine. The government owns the hospitals, employs the staff and sets the budgets. Costs are limited by central-planning, not by consumer choice or normal market competition, which leads to inefficiencies and treatment delays.

Before passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the inflammatory term “death panel” was used to describe a nonelected committee that would make life-or-death decisions for patients covered by government-run health insurance.

Rationing, through long wait-lists, is simply another form of a death panel. Government officials decide who gets care and who has to wait. Without timely access to diagnostic and specialty care, our veterans are subject to bureaucratic health-care decisions that, as the families of Phoenix-area veterans discovered, can lead to death.

Obamacare includes Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), the latest version of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). The VA system is a perfect example of an ACO. Although both models can control costs with primary-care doctors functioning as gatekeepers to specialty care, the VA system hasn’t consistently demonstrated better health outcomes or more timely treatment for patients.

The U.S. has a long-standing history of providing health care for our veterans. The VA system, however, duplicates our community-based health-care system at a tremendous cost to taxpayers and a disservice to our veterans. Service-related injuries should be handled in the best specialty facilities available, and the majority of routine medical care for veterans could be done in the private system.

Defenders of socialized medicine say they strongly object to letting veterans use the private system. Yet that is exactly what is now happening nationally. With the spotlight on the waiting-list scandal, local VA hospitals are shifting patients to private hospitals and doctors for high-quality, timely care.

Instead of waiting for a crisis, all veterans could receive a coupon or prepaid card that give them access to quality health care anywhere they choose. Another solution would be to expand TRICARE, or military health insurance, and give veterans the option of using private or active military hospitals.

There is no reason to duplicate our excellent private health-care system with a cumbersome, costly, inefficient government-run system. As a nation, we have a moral obligation to take care of our veterans. They should have access to the best and most-timely health care we can provide, even if socialized medicine advocates don’t like the idea.

Roger Stark is a health-care policy analyst at the Washington Policy Center and is a retired physician.

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