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Should the Veterans Administration take over all health care?

By Richard E. Ralston
web posted March 19, 2007

For years the advocates of a total takeover of health care by the government have pointed to the Veterans Administration as the model of efficient and caring health care by our government. It provides an ideal model, they said, for all health care. They must have forgotten to tell us to pay no attention to the leaks, the pealing paint and the rats in the corner while they push to eliminate personal choice for everyone and trap us all in a system with no options and nowhere else to go.

For whom should we expect the government to provide the best health care treatment and living conditions while that care is delivered if not for those who have fulfilled their duty to that government: our wounded combat veterans? They expect (and should demand) the best treatment possible. Yet, wounded veterans are constrained to a system with few or no choice of options. What, then, should the rest of us expect from the loving arms and warm embrace of government-managed health care? What would happen if we were all involuntarily absorbed into the bosom of government health care? Would we expect tender and solicitous car from a distant, insensitive, wasteful and indifferent bureaucracy?

Both the U.S. Army and the Veterans Administration clearly have large numbers of competent medical professionals delivering care. But soldiers in rehabilitation often have to wait a long time, travel a long way or live in terrible conditions to receive care. One of the amazing things about the problems at Walter Reed was that only the government could have developed the idea of a live-in, out-patient clinic.

In the face of this calamity and such inspirations as the tired response of all levels of government to Hurricane Katrina, the tireless advocates of medical socialism will continue to maintain that only the government can care for us adequately.

In the face of New York's cartel of hospital administrators and health care public employee unions driving the annual cost of New York Medicaid past $47 billion and clamoring for more, the friends of ever-growing government will tell us that they will always manage spending better than private providers.

When we encounter those from this fantasy world of supposedly caring and efficient government, we must always respond with the facts. When someone says that the problem with health care is the cost and only the government can restrain expense, we must always ask them exactly when the government developed an ability to restrain expense. During the forty years of exploding Medicare and Medicaid spending? Or while the gross waste and fraud in New York Medicaid was going into orbit?

When we are told that health care by for-profit companies should be outlawed because such profits increase our health care costs, we must respond that it is the need to make a profit that results in what cost control we have. A government drawing on unlimited taxes and debt cannot control costs or even fraud. And what kind of "profit" will the leaders of public employee unions -- and the politicians they fund -- gain if they seize a total monopoly over health care and eliminate all of our other options?

When we are told that we would not have to worry about paying for our health care -- whatever it costs -- because the government will pick up the tab, we need to point out that once everything is "free" it will get really expensive.
And we will watch the government decide that it owns what it is paying for -- and that it therefore owns our bodies and can instruct us what to do with them.

But it will still be a free country, right?

Before engaging in such debates, we must first tell the government to get health care in order and under control for those who have been wounded in government service. In light of their ongoing failure to get that right, however, we should not tolerate even the request to give government more power. ESR

Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, Newport Beach, California.


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