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EDITORIAL: VA buffoonery proves government can't manage health care

By: The Gazette editorial board
February 1, 2017 Updated: February 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm
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As an example of government buffoonery, the Department of Veterans Affairs is a gift that keeps giving. For Americans who served their country with valor, it is an insult, a disgrace and a threat to health and survival.

The agency has been in the news for excessive wait times that have led to deaths from conditions that should have been treated. We've seen it locally and nationally. Long wait times are a polite form of rationing.

The VA's inspector general found fraudulent and deceptive paperwork at the Colorado Spring clinic last year, where federal employees misrepresented long waits as short waits.

Because the agency has underserved and disserved veterans for decades, Congress in 2014 funded the Choice program within the VA. It was a temporary bandage solution, designed as an end run around the dysfunction. Veterans desperate for care would get referrals to private-sector providers, and the VA would pay for it.

Surprise, surprise, it didn't work. Results of a new investigation support the premise that throwing money at a problematic agency only creates a bigger problematic agency.

Congress authorized $10 billion for the Choice program. That should have bought significant relief for those in need of swift and competent care.

It did not. The VA's inspector general found the agency's inefficient paperwork bogged the system so badly that only $306 million of the $10 billion has been spent on care, while the agency has consumed $206 million to cover the costs of inefficient paperwork and administration. The system is so clogged with incompetence that it can't make enough referrals to properly use the funds. The Choice program served only 13 percent of 1.2 million veterans qualified to use it.

A story by Gazette reporter Tom Roeder says the inspector general blamed the VA administrators for enacting a program that has been "cumbersome and time-consuming."

The damning 45-page report recommends the undersecretary for health "streamline procedures for accessing care, develop accurate forecasts of demand for care in the community, reduce providers' administrative burdens, ensure veterans are not liable for authorized care, and ensure provider payments are made in a timely manner . "

As Roeder reported, a few congressional leaders of House and Senate VA panels believe the agency sabotaged the Choice program to keep money in VA coffers. We don't know if that's true, but the VA has such low credibility that the charge is easy to believe.

Congress and the president need to fix the VA while grappling with a replacement for Obamacare. We don't know the formula but generally believe success will involve stimulating a more robust supply of health care facilities and providers for all Americans.

We also know the solution cannot involve more use of government as provider and/or arbiter of health care services.

Let's not forget that a nonpartisan study of Colorado Care, a socialized medicine proposal trounced by voters last year, projected the state-run program would cause rationing and an $8 billion debt in its first decade.

For a variety of reasons, the federal government mostly fails in providing health care.

Washington should devise a regulatory and funding schematic that stimulates the market to offer competitive health care pricing, more consumer options and a surplus of care for veterans and everyone else. To make America great again, fix health care. Statim. It's an emergency.

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