Fix Veterans Care Using the Best Research Available


Avik_roy-thumbstandardGiving veterans access to America’s world-class hospitals — nonprofit institutions like Massachusetts General Hospital and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center — is not a corporate conspiracy. Nor is it a conspiracy to give veterans the option of choosing alternative health plans, like those offered by nonprofit Blue Cross entities.

I co-chaired Concerned Veterans for America’s Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce alongside a former Democratic congressman, Jim Marshall of Georgia; a former Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee; and Michael Kussman, who ran the Veterans Health Administration from 2007 to 2009. Representative Marshall received a Purple Heart for his service as an infantryman in Vietnam. Dr. Frist worked for nine years as a cardiac surgeon at the Tennessee Valley V.A. Dr. Kussman retired from the Army as a brigadier general. These individuals dedicated months of their lives, without pay, to producing the recommendations found in our 102-page report, “Fixing Veterans Health Care: A Bipartisan Policy Taskforce.”

Those who’ve sacrificed to preserve our freedoms should themselves have the freedom to choose how and where they get their health care.

We thoroughly reviewed the historical and scientific evidence regarding V.A. health outcomes. So did the independent assessment of V.A performance requested by Congress in 2014. Our conclusions and theirs were the same: that many veterans receive quality care from the V.A., but that many do not — especially those who are forced to languish for months on V.A. waitlists.

In his book, “Best Care Anywhere,” Phillip lionizes the work of Kenneth Kizer, who fought hard against inertia at the Veterans Health Administration in the 1990s. But in the years after Kizer’s departure standards once again eroded. “V.A. officials have not been as closely focused on data, results, and metrics — performance measurement—as they once were,” Kizer told the New York Times in 2014. “The culture of the V.A. has become rather toxic, intolerant of dissenting views and contradictory opinions. They have lost their commitment to transparency.”

So what exactly is it that we and others have proposed to address these problems? First, grant the Veterans Health Administration status as a government-chartered, nonprofit institution that operates without the micromanagement of politicians. Second, turn the V.A.’s network of hospitals and clinics into the nation’s leading accountable care organization, giving it the tools it needs to not merely match, but exceed the patient-centered performance of leading private institutions like the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. Third, offer those veterans who want it the option of private coverage and care. Fourth, devote more V.A. resources toward veteran-specific issues, like P.T.S.D. and traumatic brain injury. According to analysis by a respected economist who advises the Congressional Budget Office, we can enact these reforms without increasing the V.A.’s costs.

Reforming the V.A. in these ways affirms plain common sense. It’s supported by the best research on health reform. Most important, it upholds a fundamental American principle: that those who’ve sacrificed to preserve our freedoms should themselves have the freedom to choose how and where they get their health care.

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