The scandal at Veterans Administration hospitals and the indifferent response it has generated from the Obama administration has outraged the public. More than Benghazi, illegal discrimination at the IRS, and spying on the press never did, the mess at the VA is raising questions about President Obama’s detached management style as well as giving the public the impression that his second term is sinking slowly into a morass of lame duck incompetence. But while we hope that once the president and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki manage to muster some genuine anger about the situation and begin the process of unraveling the corruption and mistreatment of veterans, there’s a broader lesson to be learned here.
We are told that despite the problems that have undermined confidence in them, many veterans get good treatment at VA hospitals. Let’s hope that’s true, though the notion that the problems were isolated to one institution in Phoenix were quickly dispelled and it’s apparent that efforts by corrupt and/or incompetent administrators to game the system at the expense of patients were far more widespread than initially thought. But while no one is proposing to scrap the current system, coming as it does just as ObamaCare began to be rolled out by the federal government, the VA scandal is a reminder that long waits—which in this case led to the deaths of at least 40 veterans—are the hallmark of any inefficient federal bureaucracy. If, as liberals hope, the misnamed Affordable Care Act is the thin edge of the coming wedge of government health care, then what we are seeing now is merely a taste of what is to come as a new era of liberalism begins to flower.
As Rich Lowry wrote earlier this week in Politico Magazine, “the VA is an island of socialism in American health care.” It is exactly what many liberals want for everyone else in that it is a single-payer system that purports to provide free care for those in need but, as Lowry notes, they pay for it with long waits that often endanger the lives of the very ill. Nor is it a coincidence that the only avowed socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who chairs the committee overseeing the VA, seems to be the least outraged member of Congress about this disaster.
Though it has been plagued by scandal for many years—a point that presidential candidate Barack Obama seized upon but then promptly forgot about for the first five and a half years of his presidency—the VA system is a political sacred cow which both parties have sought half-heartedly to reform but none have dared question the wisdom of creating a parallel health-care system for veterans.
Even if a growing number of Americans are beginning to wonder about how smart the decision to create an empire of government-run hospitals is, the VA system is a classic example of something that is too big to fail. Too many people are already dependent on it and divesting the government of this problem waiting to happen simply isn’t on the table for the foreseeable future.
But if the public doesn’t like what it sees in the VA hospitals, it should think long and hard about what this portends for the future of American health care. Liberals confidently predict that we are heading inevitably toward more government involvement in this sector of the economy. Waving the flag of fairness and the need to ensure that all are covered by health insurance and can count on getting the care they require, there is little doubt that ObamaCare is merely one chapter in a long march toward government health care that could, if Obama’s Democratic successors are able to get their way, lead to the sort of single-payer system that exists in other democracies such as Britain and Canada. Those systems have their virtues but they also have their problems. And the chief of them is a scheme that basically rations care and requires those with serious problems to endure long waits for operations or special procedures.
That’s something that the left says it can live with, but if Americans are angry about 40 veterans being left to die because of an inefficient and corrupt socialist health-care plan created just for them, what does the public think will happen if we move from an already disastrous ObamaCare rollout to something far more ambitious?
The VA isn’t going anywhere, but a scandal that may do more damage to the Obama presidency than he could have imagined is more than just an example of the incompetence of his appointees and his inability to manage them. It is a prequel of the future of American health care if resurgent liberalism gets its way.