Introduction to “The Best Health Care System in the US”

Introduction to “The Best Health Care System in the US”

“Support for the long-term health care needs of veterans will require much diligence, perseverance, research, innovative thinking and funding as is being applied now to the acute medical issues facing our servicemen and women. The health care system must help veterans adjust not only to their new challenges in the present time, but also to “…the uncertainties of life after discharge for the remarkably large number of amputees and other wounded combatants. (M.J. Friedman, New England Journal of Medicine) 

That’s what America owes its veterans, particularly its wounded warriors— a good deal more than thanking them for their service and flyover salutes before the Super Bowl. As the current occupant of the White House conducts seven wars, the pressure on the VA mounts. The next occupant from the other wing of the same war party promises more of the same. The toll on the health and well being of active duty military and veterans alike requires more and more attention —expensive attention. Most of that burden falls on the VA.

This article explores the dynamics of the VA. Probably the largest group of health care facilities in the world, the VA is responsible for the health needs of nine million veterans. We look at the cost of war measured in the lives of young men and women. Currently US war fever has touched nearly one million lives. According to Pentagon statistics, 866,181 soldiers are officially counted as wounded. More than one-half have been treated in the VA system. It doesn’t end there. According to Linda Bilmes, an economist from Harvard’s Kennedy School, “one out of every two veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have already applied for long-term disability payments. More than 670,000 have already been granted, while only 15,521 have been denied.” The scope of the problem is immense and growing. Most experts believe that in the next half-century, the cost for ministering to our “wounded warriors” will top out at $1.7 trillion. Already among discharged soldiers, over one-half (56%) have applied for disability benefits. What it boils down to is that every injured soldier will cost the US $2 million in care and benefits.

The question this article poses: How do we stop the bleeding? (metaphorically and actually). The answer is simple. Stop using war as the primary driver of foreign policy. Not so simple apparently for the honchos in the defense industry (the CEO of Boeing a major defense contractor brings home over $21 million annually) or for politicians on both sides of the aisle and in the White House (Obama’s 2012 campaign benefitted from more than $1 million dollars shelled out to him by the denizens of defense land in the form of campaign contributions). You’ll find quotes from a variety of presidents (most of them democrats) testifying to their undying love for peace. Pity all we see is their affinity for war.

The second part of this article uncovers one of the best-kept secrets in government. You probably know that the VA, like Medicare, is a single payer health insurance system and unlike Medicare a health care provider in the bargain What you may not know, what our political leaders and the robber barons at the drug companies don’t want you to know is that the VA is the only one of the three government health insurance agencies able to negotiate for lower prices. As one of the biggest customers of the drug industry, the VA is able to get prices comparable to those in almost every other developed country with a single payer health care system (which is virtually all of them).

Imagine how much money the US could save if Medicare, the drug companies’ biggest customer could negotiate down the price of widely used drugs. Every time the issue is raised, few takers step up to the plate, and the measure to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices goes to the back of the bus. To give you an idea of how terrifying the prospect of lowering the rapacious prices drug companies are free to charge, President Obama made sure it was not part of Obamacare.

Does it matter? A good deal unfortunately. Prescription drugs account for more than one-half of the spending growth in health care over the last two years. Americans filled 4.4 billion prescriptions in 2015 at a total cost of $425 billion, a 12.2 increase over 2014 totals).

The VA represents a dangerous challenge to the drug industry and their water carriers, congress and the president. What if word spread that the VA was actually controlling costs? Could it become a movement? To forestall that kind of good news from getting out with its implicit threat to end US corporate welfare to the drug companies, a plan was hatched. Privatize the VA. Get rid of that troublesome blot on the unblemished record of corporate greed and profiteering. As with all good ideas, congress and the White House jumped in with both feet. Privatize the VA all agreed. Let the free market work its “magic.” The VA proved an unwilling (and unwitting) accomplice in 2014 when reports of long wait times for care and inferior treatment that may have led to 40 deaths in an Arizona VA facility surfaced. The resulting bad publicity cost the VA director his job and gave the privatization forces a big boost. To understand why we need to make sure the VA remains a shining example of the health care all Americans deserve, read the article.

Obamacare is not the answer. A system that consumes almost 18% of our GDP (2015), forcing millions of working class Americans to accept health care plans riddled with unaffordable deductibles and co-pays—a system that does not make any of us sleep better at night. The kind of health care system that will make a huge difference in better outcomes at lower costs is practiced every day at the VA. Read the article to understand why this national treasure must be preserved at all costs.

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