Don’t Nationalize the VA’s Failures
They are endemic to government-run health care.


Charles C. W. Cooke

A health-care system run and funded by a national government has been caught covering up its waiting lists, leaving patients without care for so long that they have died before they were attended to and, worst of all, perhaps, fudging the numbers in order to make itself and its political masters look more competent. I’m from England, and I’ve seen this movie before.


Many American conservatives have responded to the news that the Department of Veterans Affairs is being run precisely as one would have reasonably suspected that the VA was being run by training their fire on the Affordable Care Act. These “scandals,” the editors of Investor’s Business Daily argued ominously, “foreshadow life under Obamacare.” Well, not quite, no. For all of its many faults, Obamacare remains predicated upon a system of private insurance, maintains the nation’s network of private hospitals, and redirects taxpayers’ money toward the subsidization of monthly premiums rather than to the reimbursement of carriers. What the VA foreshadows is what the Left would like American health care to become in the future. And that is infinitely worse.

“Don’t sweat it,” The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber wrote rather bluntly in January, for Obamacare’s “going to get us to a single-payer system before long.” Leading progressive lights Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman certainly hope so — the former having praised the VA as one of “the best health-care systems in the world,” the latter having not only endorsed the principle of a government takeover of the health sector but having advocated the nationalization of hospitals, too. The VA, Krugman claimed in 2011, is “an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it.” As a result, he contended, “it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense.”

Should Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Be Fired? in NRO Polls on LockerDome

On paper, this all sounds rather nice, I suppose. But, having lived for 26 years under such a system, I cannot say that I share Krugman’s enthusiasm. Explaining the nature of the new National Health Service in the late 1940s, the British socialist Aneurin Bevan told reporters that “if a bedpan dropped in a hospital corridor, the reverberations should echo in Whitehall.” (“Whitehall” is the part of London in which the national government is located.) Bevan got his way — and how. In England nowadays, when bad things happen to patients, we do not blame hospitals, doctors, and drug companies but politicians and their appointees. Those who follow Parliament are thus treated to the absurd spectacle of the prime minister being asked to comment on individual medical cases in far-flung corners of the nation. This he seems to have accepted as his role. Never does he say in response, “Why am I being asked about this?” Never does he ask whether it might be better if the state got out of the hospital business. Instead, in each and every instance, he takes responsibility and promises to look into it.

Does he do so? Rarely. Because mistakes in delivering health care are catastrophic for those seeking reelection or trying to push an agenda, politicians in Britain spend the vast majority of their time worrying about perceived rather than actual improvement. Government, by definition, has no competition, which means that those who staff it can lie and spin and cover up mistakes not just with impunity but with the full force of the state at their back. Thus do results become less important than statistics, reforms less important than spending, and patients less important than careers. Dishonesty is widespread. Per the Telegraph, the British National Audit Office discovered in 2013 that

one in four hospitals is recording false waiting list times, with patients waiting on average three weeks longer than NHS records show.

Patients groups have said the findings were “scandalous,” and that hospital managers had been able to routinely fiddle figures so they could claim to be hitting Government waiting time targets, when patients were enduring far longer waits for care.

Sound familiar?

In the process of declaring Obamacare a success, President Obama and his cheerleaders have of late taken to insisting that the “debate is over.” But in all likelihood, the exact opposite is the case. If there is anything I learned from my series of poor experiences with Britain’s system, it is that the more that government involves itself in the provision, management, and oversight of health care, the more securely it is guaranteed that health care is all we’ll ever talk about. At his press conference this morning, President Obama hoped aloud that “our veterans don’t become another political football.” Again, too late, I’m afraid. When the government is responsible for taking care of the citizenry, their care is already a political question.

All of which is to say that this is not only a question of what government does to health care but of what health care does to government. As Patrick Brennan noted yesterday, the sorts of problems that we are seeing at the VA — “gaming statistics, secret waiting lists, long wait times for serious procedures” — “seem to be endemic to single-payer health systems and especially fully socialized ones (as in ones where the government employs the doctors and runs the hospitals, too, like the VA, Britain’s, and Spain’s).” In short: Governments can’t run health-care systems efficiently, which irritates people, which leads to governments lying about health care. It’s a mess.

Conservatives tend to believe that the state’s embrace should extend only to a few groups: those who are genuinely incapable of looking after themselves, those who are temporarily embarrassed or debilitated, those whose current predicament is the product of the state’s behavior or orders, and those who have put themselves at risk in service of their country. In other words, the government should provide a safety net into which one might fall but not one that envelops all regardless of their station or their circumstance. Given that we have agreed that our veterans’ health care falls under such responsibilities, Veterans Affairs will always be home to some degree of corruption. Just as the core functions of government necessarily invite waste, so our indispensable programs will invariably run into trouble. In all likelihood, we cannot help this. What we can do, though, is to ensure that we do not nationalize the problem — extending it by choice to all and sundry, regardless of their situation. I’ve seen that future, and it isn’t pretty.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

Obama's VA Excuses
As the Veterans Administration scandal continues to grow, President Obama finally held a press conference to address the situation — but some taxpayers on Twitter were less than impressed with POTUS’s somewhat non-committal outrage. Here’s a sampling of snark on the hashtag #ObamaVAExcuses, illustrated by NRO.
“I’m mad as hell. I've completely lost track of the number of scandals in my administration. What number is it now?” (Brian@bhewing1)
“I drove by the VA hospital last week and nothing seemed amiss.” (The Morning Spew@TheMorningSpew)
“I got confused on which scandal I was calling phony that day and yeah... missed this one. My bad.” (@andyoaklee)
“Took Hillary's advice and figured at this point what difference did it make.” (ILoveFreedom@eyeluv2laff)
“I’ve been so busy with hashtag diplomacy...someone should have tweeted me about this!” (Victorena Minchew@Merleliz)
(Image via Rebel Yankee@YankRebel69)
“They were busy frantically trying to find a YouTube video to blame before the scandal broke.” (Rebel Yankee @YankReb69)
“All the good #hashtags were already taken, so we couldn't do anything!” (Aunt Emma Fabyan@AuntEmmaFabyan)
“I couldn't find the # button on my Blackberry.” (Patriot-Dude@Patriot_Musket)
“We are on it… Kathleen Sebelius is touring the Country setting up appointments for Vets. (Image via Freedom@eyeluv2laff)
“I can't respond to that...its not on the teleprompter yet” (Mike Barr@maxnrgmike)
“I learned it from the teleprompter the same time you all did.” (James Swick @jamesbswick)
“Joe Biden kept interrupting me wanting to play ‘fetch.’” (Patriot-Dude@Patriot_Musket)
“I was shooting another youtube video with Joe Biden” (Let Freedom Ring@Bigkick85)
“With gas at $4, I thought Vets would want to save on gas & stay home.” (Palin @Palinspired)
“Who was that Reporter who unearthed this scandal B4 I gave him permission? I'll get 2 the bottom of this.” (@Boazziz)
”I was confident the MSM would keep this covered up for me” (M Noonan@MNoonan17)
“I remember now... I was commenting on Donald Sterling's racism while watching Al Sharpton on MSNBC.” (Brian@bhewing1)
“Not one smidgeon of corruption (insert latest scandal)” (Marie Shelton @SheltonMarie)
“Cut me some slack, this is my first real job!” (Jeremy Budd White @poiemajeremiah)
“I benghazi'd it all up lmao” (rat king @threatenedmom)
“The vets I talked to said they liked their health care, so I let them keep it.” (ryuge@0ryuge)
“I only regret that I have but one wife to lose for my country. Oops, Freudian Slip my bad ~BOpeep.” (OceanShoresPatriot @osPatriot)
“The administration was too laser focused on jobs.” (DelusionalDudesRight@Unv76)
“Look folks, I've got 2 fundraisers for Durbin tomorrow in Chicago — vets can wait right? they're good at it…” (LadyVeterans23@LadyVeteran23)
“This is what happens when we ignore Climate Change.” (Dude MJ@mjrod)
“I listened to Joe Biden.” (Inglorious Bastiat @Southern)
“Scandal ???? This is how a health bureaucracy is SUPPOSED to work.” (Paul Kinkel @PaulKinkel)
“If the VA ran a bunch of Momjeans stores he would have been fully engaged.” (CounterMoonbat@CounterMoonbat)
“VA? I'm sorry, I was too busy trying to look manly throwing out the first pitch.” (Mat_H @Mherholz)
“The dog I ate ate the talking points that would have provided me w/E-mediate #Benghazi.” (Shaughn@Shaughn_A)
“I was trying to sneak a smoke while Michelle was out shopping (again) and lit those particular briefing papers. On accident.” (Stinkburger @EgoAenigma)
“I was at a fundraiser for white privileged Democrat donors when all of a sudden,I saw on the news…” (Dude MJ@mjrod)
“My teleprompter is FURIOUS.” (KillerBunnyFooFoo @PolitiBunny)
“I will provide results of my study into the problems at the VA just as soon as I can find a way to put it back on Bush.” (Gunny@GunnyP80)
“Bush...GOP...blah, blah, blah...SQUIRREL!" (Ben Crystal @Bennettruth)
“We were busy barricading vets from visiting war memorials.” (Regulus de Leo@RegulusdeLeo)
“They tore down my #barrycades it's only fair that I get even.” (LeftyLemn @LeftyLemn)
“Because they didn't sign up for #Obamacare.” (Let Freedom Ring@Bigkick85)
“What else did you expect from an #EmptyChair?” (Image via Infidel@Phylis)
“None of the VA hospitals were near a golf course” (Glenn Amurgis@gamurgis)
“Never in the 164 times I'v been golfing has a CNN reporter informed me of the VA scandal” (JIM LOCKWOOD SHOW@jimlockwoodshow)
“That particular morning briefing fell into my golf bag.” (Stinkburger@EgoAenigma)
“I’ve been too busy trying to sneak a burger into the White House to be bothered with that.” (Stinkburger@EgoAenigma)
“Shinseki wanted to make Sebelius look competent.” (Regulus de Leo@RegulusdeLeo)
“Ask Jay Carney. He's up to speed on this.” (Dude MJ@mjrod)
“The buck never got here.” (Edward @US395)
“Veterans, those are the guys wearing tri-corner hats, right?” (Cranky Gordon@CrankyGordon)
“My excuse? Hold on while I summon Susan Rice.” (Jeremy Budd White @poiemajeremiah)
“Been laying low. Heard Solange was looking for me. (The Morning Spew@TheMorningSpew)”
“If only Fluke had been a vet instead of a law student...MT @_wintergirl93 We'll get to it but Sandy Fluke needs her BC first” (Leslie@LADowd)
“Lois Lerner may know.. if you can get her to speak..” (Dude MJ@mjrod)
“VA? George Soros assured me all of that was beneath the historic nature of my Presidency.” (S @AvgJosephine)
“I’m ensuring that Pres Carter will not go down as the worst President in U.S. history.” (Madder Than Hell @jodi_l_joseph)
“I need an athlete to come out of the closet ASAP!” (Lasy Sanders@LadySandersfarm)
“I was too busy skyrocketing energy prices.... *Necessarily*” (Beanfrompa @BeanfromPa)
“If VA Hospitals were full of gay people and women waiting for abortions Obama would've used Executive Order by now” (The People’s Cube@ThePelplesCube)
“Put a call into Gore and find out if he knows how to create a natural disaster.” (Lady Sanders@LadySandersfarm)
“This IS universal healthcare, isn’t it fantastic?” (Leslie G@Libertarian_ish)
“This can all be fixed if we just raise taxes to pay for teacher raises…” (MR. Marty @gigg423)
“I’ll get to it after I finish jogging around the WH with Biden” (The 57th State @EF517)
“Wait, I've got the Pelosi-posse working on those excuses as we speak! I trust they will find a way to blame GOP somehow.” (nunyabusiness@ronpaulrevolt)
“I’m too busy sockin' away taxpayer bucks & blowin' some on pals! Plus there's that $6 Bill that Hillary & I stole from State!” (G. Behn@gwbehn)
“Er, um, Hillary tells me the VA problems are related to a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy against Veterans & her husband, uh Bill” (G. Behn @gwbehn)
“That particular briefing is locked up in Area 51, so I don't know what you're talking about.” (Stinkburger@EgoAenigma)
“I am taking a selfy at the VA hospital! That should fix it!” (Jane Cunningham @jcvolt)
“What he is really thinking: ‘There will be NO VA FOR YOU OR ANY VETS…’ (Don’t ask don’t tell)” (Image via GoldstarMoM@BOSSYtxmar55)
“Wait a minute, I’m spinning my Excuse-O-Meter to find out who to blame.” (Image via Bossy Galt@JGalt9)
(Image via Time Crunched@Crunched4time)
“Sorry, but…” (Image via RED CAMEL@Chair_for_One)
“Above my pay grade” (Image via pRESIDENT ALIEN@RESIDENT_ALIEN)
“It’s part of my plan.” (Image via pRESIDENT ALIEN@RESIDENT_ALIEN)
Updated: May. 23, 2014