Earlier this month a whistleblower accused a Veteran Affairs’ hospital in Phoenix of disguising the long wait times at its facility by putting some patients on a “secret list.” The whistleblower also claimed that over forty people died while waiting for procedures. Now an independent federal investigation, lead by acting inspector Richard Griffin, has begun to verify those claims. The NYT reports:
[The investigation’s findings] validat[e] allegations raised by whistle-blowers and others that Veterans Affairs officials in Phoenix employed artifices to cloak long waiting times for veterans seeking medical care. Mr. Griffin said the average waiting time in Phoenix for initial primary care appointments, 115 days, was nearly five times as long as what the hospital’s administrators had reported. […]Mr. Griffin said that similar kinds of manipulation to hide long and possibly growing waiting times were “systemic throughout” the sprawling Veterans Affairs health care system, with its 150 medical centers serving eight million veterans each year. The inspector general’s office is reviewing practices at 42 Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
It seems that the entire system may be rotten. That should embarrass pundits (mainly on the left) who have long touted the VA as a model for future health reform. In 2005, Phillip Longman argued in the Washington Monthly that “ten years ago, veterans hospitals were dangerous, dirty, and scandal-ridden. Today, they’re producing the highest quality care in the country. Their turnaround points the way toward solving America’s health-care crisis.” In 2009, Ezra Klein claimed that “if you ordered America’s different health systems worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.” Apparently, reports of the VA’s success were extremely premature.The VA has been very good at hiding this problem from the public and government officials alike, so lefty commentators haven’t been the only ones caught short. But that is exactly the problem. Scandals like this are much more likely to happen in government-managed health care systems, which are difficult to hold accountable, not to mention so vast and complicated that they can easily bury information.Pundits who have been pushing the single payer pivot should think about finding another model.