The Veterans Health Administration — to the extent that it does provide care — actually spends vastly more per patient than both the private sector and Medicare, according to a new analysis.
Supporters of the single-payer health-care system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs have argued that the VA needs more money to spend on its patients, but according to a Monday study from the conservative American Action Forum, the VHA already spends more per patient than the rest of the health industry. (VIDEO: Sen. Sanders Has Been Spinning The VA Scandal Since Day One)
Veterans most often use VHA coverage along with some other type of insurance — like Medicare, Medicaid or a private health plan. The VHA provides an average of just 36 percent of each enrollee’s health care — meaning that those supposedly lower costs should be considered just a third of the overall cost of providing health care to those veterans.
The VA actually spends just $4,557 per patient — but that doesn’t include the additional coverage that veterans seek. When adjusted to assume total reliance on VHA care, the VA’s total spending per enrollee is $12,658 per person, according to 2006 data — 80 percent higher than the total national average, according to the report. The disparity has led some supporters to claim that the VHA has lower health-care costs than the similar Medicare single-payer system, but when the actual amount of coverage provided is considered, the VHA falls behind.
The VHA spends 80 percent more per patient than the national average, according to the AAF report. The average per-capita health spending for the country as a whole is just $7,025.
AAF is quick to note that this is not necessarily due to the cost-efficiency of the single-payer system, given significant differences in the health of the VHA population. For one, VHA patients are older on average than the general public, with an average age of 63 (while they’re younger on average than Medicare patients), and more likely to carry costly age-related diseases.
In addition, the veteran population is more likely to have costly disabilities related to military service. At the same time, AAF reports, veterans approved for military service are less likely to have chronic conditions that would have disqualified them from serving.
But even when compared only to Medicare, possibly the sickliest pool of customers, the VHA comes out worse. Medicare patients are older on average — 84 percent of Medicare enrollees are age 65 or older and the remaining are disabled.
But between federal spending and out-of-pocket costs, Medicare costs per patient totaled $12,414 in 2006, still less than the VHA’s adjusted $12,658 per person.
On top of the cost discrepancies, the U.S. generally approves of Medicare by wide margins — a far cry from the VA scandal which led to former VA secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. (RELATED: VA Chief Shinseki Axed As Scandal Rages On)