“People Will Die!” – But In The VA Healthcare System, They’re Dying Now

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John Linder Former Congressman
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The Sunday talk shows were all on message. “Yes there are problems with Obamacare, but please don’t repeal it. Just take those sections that aren’t working and fix them.”

If the problem was just the product it could be fixed. Unfortunately, the principal failing of Obamacare is not the product, but the premise; that government can make better decisions for you and your family than can you. That can’t be “fixed.”

The Left argues that we can provide healthcare for all by moving to a universal government program. We could remove the profits that pay insurance executives millions of dollars each year in compensation and put that money toward care. That fails to appreciate the fact that the profit motive is what makes businesses pay attention to their customers. Governments do not have customers. Governments have wards.

The profit motive is what made me as a dentist do everything I could do to make my patients comfortable, happy and feeling well cared for. They then might refer their friends to my practice and I could be busier, happier and wealthier. My staff understood this. Their compensation depended on happy patients too.

Our VA healthcare system is the closest thing we have to “government medicine” today. It has 1700 clinics and hospitals serving almost 9 million veterans per year. But that system is not absent financial rewards. In 2014, the year that the Phoenix VA waiting list fraud became known, the VA paid out $142 million in bonuses to employees.

In the VA healthcare system the patients are merely tools by which the staff is measured for bonuses. The boss is the one to be served. He or she decides whether your work is satisfactory and what your bonus will be.

One of the metrics in determining bonuses is the length of time veterans are kept on the waiting list before being seen. The entire patient scheduling fraud was designed to circumvent that metric so that the boss would be content and you would get your bonus.

That is what is so outrageous about the whining from the Left that “PEOPLE WILL DIE!” under healthcare reform. Where were they just last year when nearly half of the veterans on the waiting list at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System facility died waiting for treatment?

Twenty-five years ago the VA hospital in Atlanta was in my congressional district. Occasionally I slipped into the waiting room late in the afternoon and talked with some of the veterans waiting to be seen. I would ask how long they had been sitting there. Most said they came in early that morning. One said he came in yesterday. When it became known that I was in the hospital the director’s assistant would invite me to see the boss. The first time I was escorted into the director’s office it quickly filled with about 20 people including doctors. I asked, “With all of you in here talking to me, who in hell is seeing those patients in the waiting room?” The doctors left.

For all of the wild charges about the House’s vote, let us examine the basics of the current debate. Out of 325 million Americans all but about 16 million are covered either by a government program or their employer. We are having an “end of the world” debate over 4 percent of America. In 2016 Obamacare cost the taxpayers about $110 billion. Surely we can find a way to help that 4 percent.

Before Obamacare’s mandates changed the world the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan provided a cafeteria of choices for about 2 million federal employees through private insurers competing for business. The plan is large enough to cover pre-existing conditions and it crossed state lines. We should let everyone in the individual or small business market buy into the FEHBP. This has been studied at some length and was introduced by Cliff Stearnes in 1993.

We have 9800 community health centers in the United States. That number should be increased, particularly in rural and poor areas, and every American should be allowed to use them for routine care. Most of us wouldn’t, but the poor would have healthcare. I co-sponsored this bill with Roy Rowland and Mike Bilirakis in 1994.

For those using community health centers and needing hospital services state risk pools and Medicaid can help pay the bill.

Obamacare was premised on the notion that wise bureaucrats make better decisions for you and your family than do you. That premise is fundamentally wrong and cannot be fixed. We need to totally reject it and let freedom ring.

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