When Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a plan entitled “Medicare for All,” he electrified progressives who regard Medicare as the health reform benchmark. Senior citizens enrolled in Medicare enjoy the security of knowing they can receive quality care regardless of their health or financial status. They have the option to receive care from private physicians and private hospitals. They even enjoy the option of deputizing private insurers to administer their Medicare benefits.
So why does Sanders oppose giving veterans those options?
It’s common sense: Give veterans who can’t get convenient care from the V.A. the option of obtaining that care from private doctors, hospitals and insurers.
The problems with veterans’ health care were brought to the fore in 2014, when whistle blowers found that a number of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities were denying care to veterans in need, and concealing those denials to watchdogs in government.
The common sense response of most Americans — and most veterans — was simple: Give veterans who can’t get convenient care from the V.A. the option of obtaining that care from private doctors, hospitals and insurers.
A poll by Concerned Veterans for America and the Tarrance Group of more than 1,000 veterans found that 88 percent agreed that eligible veterans should be given the choice to receive medical care from any source that they themselves choose. And 95 percent agreed that it was “extremely” or “very important” to have the option to seek the best possible care, even if that care was provided by a non-V.A. facility.
There are plenty of veterans who are happy with V.A. health care. And those who have been lucky enough to stay off the V.A.’s waiting lists often do well. But why on earth would we deny other veterans the ability to seek care from qualified private providers, when those on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare can? Even the Veterans Health Administration’s own employees enjoy a vast array of private health care and coverage options that are denied to the veterans they ostensibly serve.
We hear a plethora of excuses from opponents of reform. Antagonists say that veterans can only receive good care in a closed system, in which veterans are forbidden to seek care from other sources. The naysayers shriek about “privatization,” as if health care delivered by private physicians is something to be feared. And they claim that if some veterans seek care from private sources, those that prefer the traditional V.A. will receive inferior care.
Modern proposals to reform the V.A., like the one recently put forth by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.), address these objections. They devote public resources to improving the quality of traditional V.A. care, while also giving veterans the option to seek coverage and care from well-established, high-quality private sources.
Those who are ideologically committed to believing that government services are always better than private services may be unwilling to consider evidence to the contrary. And leaders of public-sector unions oppose allowing veterans to seek care from private hospitals instead of public ones, because they’d receive less income from workers’ dues. But for everyone else, the right answer is obvious.