From the much better-looking Dana on Patterico’s Pontifications:
Just a few days before Memorial Day and in the midst of the growing VA scandal, Senate Democrats blocked a bill (VA Management Accountability Act, H.R.4031) that would have made it easier to cut through bureaucratic red tape and fire VA employees, as well as hold the department more accountable.
Take heart, though, because President Obama is madder than hell about the scandal.
In the meantime, the Weekly Standard notes,
The director of the Phoenix VA hospital received an $8,500 pay bonus last month even as allegations of 40 deaths resulting from excessive wait times for care were being investigated. Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, “got an $8,500 bonus last month while there was an open [inspector general] investigation into Phoenix,” Chairman Miller told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview Wednesday. It had been previously reported that Helman received more than $9,000 in bonus pay in 2013 on top of her annual salary of $169,900. The VA office of inspector general began investigating the Phoenix VA for wrongdoing in December 2013, months before Helman received the additional $8,500 bonus.
And an update:
The VA announced this afternoon: “Secretary Shinseki today exercised his authority to rescind Sharon Helman’s fiscal year 2013 performance award immediately. Previously, Ms. Helman received the performance award due to an administrative error.”
Those darn administrative errors!
More at the link. But Dana refers us to The Wall Street Journal, where James Taranto noted how the left, including Nobel laureate Paul Krugman waxed effusive on the grandeur of the Veterans Administration health care system.
Of course, we have the left, this time in the guise of the Progressive Populist on the Delaware Liberal, trying to defend the VA and blame Evil Republicans:
The current uproar over wait times and probable malfeasance and maybe criminal cover ups at some VA facilities being investigated has caused a call for privatization of the VA health system. This demand is mostly heard from teabagger Republicans in Congress.
Some want the VA chief’s head on a platter. Have you really looked at our private health system in the U.S.? If you have, you’d not be calling for this absurd “solution” to current scheduling and service demand issues.
These same clowns were huge supporters of an unfunded war in Iraq and the travesty in Afghanistan which caused demand for healthcare services to increase from 400,000 to 918,000 veterans, just during President Obama’s tenure as our commander in chief. They’ve chosen to ignore possible funding needs at the VA just as they chose to ignore paying for Iraq. Now it’s coming back to haunt them. Or more correctly, haunt our recent veterans and their families who deserve the best our nation has to give.
True, President Obama has succeeded in shoehorning in a 50% VA budget increase, but not without a bloody, shitstorm fight with the congressional teabagger Republicans. I am not arguing for a one to one increase in the VA budget based on this lopsided demand growth curve. I am arguing that budget may play a role and must be at the center of solutions discussions.
Well, yes, I’ve really looked at our private health system in the United States, because I’m an American citizen who uses that private health system, and I’ve never experienced delays like those being reported in the VA system. When I’ve had to call for an appointment with my gastroenterologist, I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of days. When I’ve wanted an appointment with my ophthalmologist, I’ve always gotten one quickly.
But, let’s be honest here: this is a scandal only because it was revealed publicly: it was wholly intentional and a necessary part of socialized, single-payer medical care. In the United Kingdom, a former National Health Service director died after waiting for nine months for an operation, at her own hospital, after her surgical appointments had been previously cancelled by the NHS four times!
Remember this story, from the BBC?
Hospitals told to delay treatment
Hospitals in the South East are being told to delay routine patient appointments for eight weeks, otherwise they will not be paid for them.
The minimum period is being enforced by primary care trusts because a drive to meet government waiting time targets was costing too much money.
Hospital consultants and GPs in Kent and West Sussex said being told not to see patients was “unethical”.
NHS South East Coast said it had to “live within its means”.
The strategic health authority (SHA) – which covers all hospital and primary care trusts in Kent, Surrey and Sussex – said its forecast deficit for the current financial year was £104m.
A letter sent to all the trust chief executives said routine patients should not be seen “too promptly”.
More at the link.
Everywhere you look, countries which have socialized medicine or single-payer health care systems are having to cut costs, to control expenditures, and delaying appointments is a very common way of doing this: if appointments are stretched out, the individual patient will wind up with fewer total appointments over a given period of time, and some will not make their appointments at all, out of forgetfulness, out of disgust, or just plain because some of them died before their health care appointments. What the Veterans Administration was doing was exactly the same thing as Britain’s National Health System, and as Canada’s single-payer system does!
The Progressive Populist complained that, well, maybe there aren’t enough people in the VA system with real hospital administration experience, trying to blame some of the inefficiencies on having too many former military men in positions of authority, but what the VA did was the same as other socialized health care do, just the same as those experienced hospital administrators do in overseas single-payer systems. Of course, we can’t allow that here, so the VA had to create phony appointment calendars to hide the truth, and that’s where they got caught, but they were doing what they had to do.
And it even worked! The 40 veterans who dies while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital saved the government money by dying before their appointments! That’s a pretty calloused and hard-hearted way to put it, but I put it that way intentionally, because it is the truth.1
This is not a new story. From CNN:
Veterans dying because of health care delays
By Scott Bronstein, Nelli Black, and Drew Griffin, CNN Investigations | updated 9:34 PM EST, Thu January 30, 2014
(CNN) — U.S. veterans are dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment at VA hospitals.
At least 19 veterans have died because of delays in simple medical screenings like colonoscopies or endoscopies, at various VA hospitals or clinics, CNN has learned.
That’s according to an internal document from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, obtained exclusively by CNN, that deals with patients diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and 2011.
The veterans were part of 82 vets who have died or are dying or have suffered serious injuries as a result of delayed diagnosis or treatment for colonoscopies or endoscopies.
Barry Coates is one of the veterans who has suffered from a delay in care. Coates was having excruciating pain and rectal bleeding in 2011. For a year the Army veteran went to several VA clinics and hospitals in South Carolina, trying to get help. But the VA’s diagnosis was hemorrhoids, and aside from simple pain medication he was told he might need a colonoscopy.
More at the link, but note the date: that story was published in January.
As it happens, I’ve had to have a couple of colonoscopies myself, and I’ve never had to wait weeks or months. Such procedures have a one or two day “clean-out” waiting period, but that’s it. But, then again, I have my health care paid for by private insurance, and I’ve used doctors who are in business to make money.
What we have is a “scandal” because Americans are used to the prompt and professional care we get from the private-pay, for profit medical system, and then a whole bunch of people are shocked, shocked! to find out that the speed and quality of care in that system is not replicated in the single-payer, non-profit Veterans’ Administration Hospitals system. I would have been shocked if it was as good as the private system. And the closer we get to single-payer, something I’ve said many times is the ultimate goal of the Democrats, the more openly we’ll see, for everybody, what we have seen in the VA scandal: deliberately downgraded speed and quality of care designed to save money.
- PolitiFact called the “Death Panels” assertions of Republicans, primarily Sarah Palin, during the debates on the Patient Protection and Affordable care Act the “Lie of the Year” for 2009, but it seems that the VA Hospital’s dual appointment books get pretty close to qualifying as “death panels.” It seems that Mrs Palin was right all along. ↩