Why don’t we expand VA health system?


DesMoinesRegister.com, May 29, 2011

The Register recently editorialized that it doesn’t make sense to operate a multi-billion VA health care system that runs parallel to the nation’s vast private health care system of hospitals and clinics. It serves only one segment of the population. A better option would be providing veterans health insurance, similar to Medicare for seniors. Then they would be allowed to go to any hospital or clinic, rather than having to travel long distances for care. The thousands of health care workers currently employed by the government could work in the private sector and treat more Americans.

On the opposite page (excerpt and link below), Donald Cooper, director of VA Central Iowa Health Care System, takes issue with that idea. He suggests instead that Americans should learn from the VA. It certainly does have a record of providing good care. For example, it does a better job preventing hospital-acquired infections than private hospitals. A “connected” system of facilities allows for easy access to comprehensive medical records, which can prevent unnecessary tests and medical errors.

He makes good points. And he got us thinking: Maybe the VA shouldn’t be dismantled. Maybe it should be available to everyone. What if the VA’s hospitals and clinics became THE health care system in this country?

After all, a single system would make more sense than the hodgepodge of thousands of private and public hospitals, clinics and insurer plans. The VA is wildly popular with politicians of both political parties. The program pays a fraction of what private insurance companies pay for prescription drugs, and the VA provides not only hospital care but also nursing home care. It’s comprehensive.

Perhaps it should be expanded.

Of course once some politicians figure out that is “socialized” medicine, the idea would go over like a lead balloon. The VA is truly socialized health care. The workers are employed by the government. The buildings are owned by Uncle Sam. The entire operation and all the care is funded with tax money.

This newspaper has supported a taxpayer-financed system of health insurance. Pool tax money to provide everyone with government insurance that helps pay for services offered by private hospitals, clinics and doctors. That’s what some other countries do.

We never have argued the government should also own facilities and employ workers who provide care.

But Cooper — as well as the experts and studies he refers to — certainly should give all of us something to think about. They agree “consistent, safe, high quality care requires a reliable delivery system that sets high standards of clinical practice, monitors clinical performance indicators, and employs systematic use of process improvement tools and practices.” That “best care comes from systems just like VA health care.”

What about the rest of us?

We’ll take it.



VA offers lessons for U.S. health care

By Donald C. Cooper, Director of VA Central Iowa Health Care System
DesMoinesRegister.com, May 29, 2011

As your (prior May 9) article infers, it is widely recognized that our nation is facing a growing health care crisis with a fragmented delivery system, escalating costs, and highly variable quality and financing systems that create an excessive administrative burden and incentives for overutilization of diagnostic procedures and specialized care.

Health care leaders have consistently observed that the best care requires an integrated health care system, one that treats the whole patient and coordinates care across the full continuum of services from primary care to acute specialized care, from post-surgery rehabilitation to nursing home and end-of-life care. We know that the best care comes from comprehensive integrated delivery systems – systems just like VA health care.

Health care experts also agree that consistent, safe, high quality care requires a reliable delivery system that sets high standards of clinical practice, monitors clinical performance indicators, and employs systematic use of process improvement tools and practices. The evidence shows that consistent, high quality care comes from the rigorous application of evidence-based medicine supported by a comprehensive, easily accessible, electronic patient health record. We know that the best care comes from systems just like VA health care, an integrated health system with an award winning lifetime electronic patient record that improves patient safety, enhances coordination of care, and supports consistent application of clinical guidelines and monitoring of quality indicators across 153 medical centers and over 800 community based clinics across the country.



By Don McCanne, MD

Wow! The Des Moines Register previously has supported single payer reform, but now they seem to be broadening their position by supporting a publicly owned and operated national health service – socialized medicine! Not only should everyone be covered by a universal, taxpayer-financed risk pool, but that pool should be used to pay for integrated health care – a system “just like VA health care.”

Currently there is considerable interest in integrated health care systems. The concept of accountable care organization (ACO) has been advanced as a model for integrating health care delivery. Unfortunately, ACO was narrowly defined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which led to a proposed set of rules that have been largely rejected by the health care community. This stumbling block should not prevent us from moving forward with efforts to establish integrated health care that is designed specifically to benefit patients, much like the VA health care system.

H.R. 676, single payer legislation sponsored by John Conyers, calls for conversion of for-profit institutions of the health care delivery system into non-profit, eliminating passive investors, while being run by boards representing the public interest. The VA system would remain independent for the first ten years, at which time merging it with the single payer system would be considered. Could H.R. 676 be an incremental step towards a national health service?

Unfortunately, ACA has left our health care system highly fragmented. The first attempt to form integrated health systems through the ACO model has demonstrated that organizing within such a fragmented system is about like herding cats. Obviously a properly designed single payer system would provide the guidance and incentives to encourage patient-oriented integrated systems. What the VA system has shown us is that government ownership can much more readily facilitate health system integration. It’s already been done – by the government!

The nation most often cited for an example of a national health service is the United Kingdom. For less than half of what we are spending ($3129 vs. $7538 per capita, PPP adjusted), they have achieved most of the goals of a high-performance system that have remained elusive in the United States. Just imagine what an integrated national health service in the United States would be like at our current level of spending.

As the editorial board of the Des Moines Register says, “We’ll take it.” Anyway, it’s definitely something worth thinking about.

Re-posted with permission from pnhp.org.