Opinion

Veterans know Obamacare because they already have it

Pete Hegseth CEO, Concerned Veterans for America

By now, the slow-motion train wreck that is Obamacare has been well documented, as new revelations about the law become known to the public. From antiquated technology to cost uncertainty to not keeping your doctor, the reality of government-mandated health care is smacking Americans in the face.

But for America’s war veterans, this is all old news. If you’re looking for an even more damning glimpse of Obamacare’s future, ask a military veteran about their experiences with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You will not find their responses reassuring.

The most common complaint veterans voice about the VA system is the impenetrable bureaucracy, which leads to long wait times for access, especially to rate disability claims. When their benefit claims are stymied by the VA’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy, veterans often recite a mordantly cynical refrain: “Delay, deny, wait till I die.” The dark joke is that for VA, the ideal outcome is to put off dealing with a veteran’s claim until the veteran dies, and the problem resolves itself.

This maze, manifest primarily in an inability to verify eligibility, is the primary reason the VA/Obamacare comparison is so apt. In the 21st century, VA still does 97 percent of its claims process on paper, leading to absurd delays in determining disability ratings. Likewise, oversight reports indicate that for Obamacare “the same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted (paper, online)…at the end of the day, we’re all stuck in the same queue.” You can put lipstick on a pig, but…

If the VA service model tells us anything about where Obamacare is headed, Americans should be prepared for their health care experience to become even more dysfunctional and bureaucratic. While the Obamacare administrative model differs from VA’s, a national health care system will inevitably take on the same dysfunctional behaviors – leading to paperwork nightmares, wait times, and limited choice. It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to see how Obamacare will lead to a similar bureaucratization and unintended consequences within the civilian health care sector, but on steroids.

It’s inevitable that Obamacare will lead to long wait times in the larger health care system. After all, subsidizing health care for millions while neglecting to increase the number and capacity of health care providers is a classic mismatch of supply and demand. Other nations that are celebrated for their “universal” health care systems, like Canada and Great Britain, have struggled with this quandary for decades – just like the VA.

Recent media reports have highlighted the VA’s mountain of veterans’ claims for disability and compensation benefits awaiting processing. As of this month, that claims inventory was still over 700,000, with 400,000 claims having waited longer than 125 days (or “backlogged”). In some areas of the nation, veterans have waited two years or longer for their disability and compensation claims to be processed.

This dysfunction can literally mean the difference between life and death. A recent review of VA revealed that thousands of veterans wait more than two weeks for a simple mental health appointment; this while 22 veterans commit suicide daily in America. When a veteran is a number, and not a customer, it means waiting for life-saving services like mental health.

Similar stories of exorbitant wait times for other healthcare services are commonplace across VA facilities. Need a hip replacement due to service related injuries? Or an MRI to evaluate a service related disability claim?  Chances are you’ll wait in line for weeks, or even months.

And while disability claims delays have shown improvement in recent months, veterans’ advocacy organizations of all stripes warn that VA has sacrificed accuracy in the effort to reduce the backlog quickly. More errors will only lead to more appeals, shifting the backlog into another arena, and lengthening wait times.

This is not to suggest that VA care is uniformly bad. Some VA health care facilities are first-rate. Ask a group of veterans and you will find plenty who can report positive experiences in the VA health care system—once they get into the system, that is. Even then, the reports are mixed. VA care is dramatically inconsistent; when it’s bad, it’s very bad indeed, and there’s little accountability when things go wrong.

At the Pittsburgh VA in 2011, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease bacteria in the facility’s water system led to the deaths of at least five veterans and sickened at least 21, sparking a congressional investigation into the facility’s poor management. Despite the administrative failure, the VA regional director overseeing the Pittsburgh center was awarded a $63,000 bonus for his career service. So much for accountability.

And of course, we can’t overlook the massive difference in scale. The VA is responsible for providing service to the nation’s roughly 22 million veterans (only 8.8 million of which utilize VA). That’s only a fraction of the population that will be seeking health care under Obamacare. It’s hard to imagine the president’s government-run “solution” performing more efficiently than the much smaller VA system.

Few people who have had to deal with an insurance company would argue that the existing private insurance model is the ideal solution to providing health care services. But as VA shows, and as Obamacare will continue to prove, a government-run solution performs even more poorly, with long delays, incessant bureaucracy and higher than expected costs.

Too many veterans already receive second-rate treatment, must all Americans?

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and contributor to The Blaze. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.