The Veterans Administration scandal contains messages galore, not the least of which is that bureaucratically managed, socialized medicine can be a life-robbing political blunder. And please, do not suppose a system that falls a tad short of that description is not a blunder, too. Let Obamacare bloom, leading to patients everywhere and nary a doctor in sight, and watch the rationing there, too.
Yes, rationing. That is part of what is going on in this VA disgrace. Veterans in need of health care increased because of Middle East wars, Congress allocated more money, but a VA hospital in Phoenix still left many waiting while their illnesses pushed ahead. It is alleged that 40 veterans died while in effect standing in line and that the failure to get them care was hushed up.
It doesn't end there. Twenty-six other VA hospitals are being investigated to see if they similarly muffed their duties. This issue has been around for a long time, and the Obama administration knew about it. Even in the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama blistered George W. Bush's hide because of a veteran who committed suicide after receiving no care, which brings us to something Obama is good at: indignant rhetoric.
What he's not particularly good at is making things happen. He has shown as much in non-negotiations with Congress, in divisive, politically devious leadership that has given us the worst economic recovery since World War II, in limp responses to other scandals and in all kinds of demagogic analyses that do win applause from some lefties, heaven help us. A truly competent, responsive, experienced leader might have seen to less rationing some time ago.
Lately, the administration did agree to letting more veterans use private facilities at government expense, and that's one tiny step forward as a more fundamental issue sits there. It's that massive, monopolistic bureaucracy, assured of something like eternal life, is seldom flexible, adaptive or inclined toward urgency. The VA medical program has been demonstrating the hurtful consequences not just recently, but beginning seven decades ago.
President Bill Clinton, more a doer than Obama, was able to effect positive changes in VA hospitals through the appointment of an undersecretary with a mission. But what we've mostly had is systemic drag suggesting we reach elsewhere for answers. Avik Roy, an expert writing an interesting analysis in an online Forbes piece, believes the answer is legislation letting all veterans use funds from government to buy private insurance while VA hospitals also seek out civilian patients.
That first part is contrary to the druthers of some top stars in the commentary biz who have less than studiously said VA hospitals prove socialized medicine is health utopia. They do like single-payer systems, often citing Britain, which has tossed in large numbers of public hospitals. What they fail to mention is that Britain has been another venue of dangerously long waits. Some of the issues addressed by Obamacare absolutely needed addressing, but prudently, in small steps, not by means of turning everything upside down and figuring everyone would land safely because know-it-alls said they would.
Right now, according to a New York Times report, some hospitals are cutting back on charitable cases until would-be patients purchase insurance made available through Obamacare. So if the sickly can't afford the price, how do they get taken care of? Here, in other words, is yet another demonstration of the way our supposedly omniscient caretakers in Washington could not begin to puzzle out a fraction of what would painfully result from their hubristic endeavor.
(Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.)