NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Long-Term, Not Short-Term, Fix for the VA System

October 6, 2014

America's veterans are waiting three months or more to see a doctor just for an initial visit. Jonathan Bush, CEO of athenahealth, writes that the number is far out of proportion to wait times in the private sector. According to data from his own company, which provides cloud-based services to more than 55,000 health providers, the median wait time for a new patient in 2013 was just three days. For the sick, the wait time averaged just one day.

Following the VA scandal, in which it became clear that veterans were being denied care and facing inexcusably long wait times, lawmakers moved to allow veterans to access health providers outside of the VA system. Yet, that move is only temporary, writes Bush. Robert McDonald, the man chosen to lead the VA after the scandal, himself said that the use of private care was a short-term strategy, "until we get systems up to capacity."

Why is private care not a long-term solution to providing our veterans with health care? Bush contends that choice and a free health care market should be a permanent feature of the VA system. If veterans were allowed to seek care from private providers outside of the VA system, Bush says that one of two things would happen:

  • In competing with providers across the country, the VA would improve service quality and access, giving veterans solid care and turning the VA itself into a high-quality provider.
  • Or, as competition creates choice for veterans, they would find outside health providers that provide more efficient care. This would result in the eventual dissolution of the VA health system altogether, or it would reduce the VA to one which only offers services in which it has a competitive advantage and outperforms others. This would also reduce costs.

Both of these possibilities are positive and would benefit veterans and taxpayers alike.

Over at the NCPA Health Policy Blog, Senior Fellow John Graham discussed this issue, including whether the VA's electronic health record (EHR) system could be interoperable with private EHRs.

Source: Jonathan Bush, "Vets Deserve The Right To Shop For Care," Health Affairs, October 2, 2014. 


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