Bankrupt Health Care
VA Crisis Worsens as Wait Lines Explode

The VA health care crisis is getting worse: according to the NYT, waiting lists and costs have exploded since last year’s scandal. More:

The number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than it was during the height of last year’s problems, department officials say. The department is also facing a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall, which could affect care for many veterans.

The agency is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap. A proposal to address a shortage of funds for one drug — a new, more effective but more costly hepatitis C treatment — by possibly rationing new treatments among veterans and excluding certain patients who have advanced terminal diseases or suffer from a “persistent vegetative state or advanced dementia” is stirring bitter debate inside the department.

VA officials want to move some money away from “Choice Card” program that lets patients seek care outside the VA system, but that won’t solve the long term problem. The department’s deputy secretary Sloan Gibson has already said that more funds would be needed over and above that to meet the surge in demand.

It seems like the VA system is experiencing many of the same pressures facing U.S. health care at large: skyrocketing demand for care, expensive drugs, provider shortages, and other structural factors. But though a VA experiment with telemedicine is a hopeful sign of change, on the whole the department doesn’t seem to be doing any better at fixing those problems than other sectors of the industry are. That’s despite the fact that a liberal wonk like Ezra Klein is on record as saying in 2009 that the VA system is the “best-functioning” health care system in the U.S. “Medicare is single-payer,” he remarked, “but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctor.” Not is he alone in praising the VA (h/t Sean Davis). When it comes to solving the long-term factors slowly bankrupting U.S. health care, however, government ownership doesn’t seem to be as curative as some on the left think.

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