Sunday, July 03, 2005

VA Health Care:
Should Be Run Like A Business

The largest number of US combat veterans served in World War II.  A person who turned 18 in 1941 would turn 82 in 2005.  That means that the VA health system has to deal with a declining number of surviving vets.  Although there are many Korean, Viet Nam and Gulf War vets, they are not so numerous as those from WWII.  However, the older the vets get, the more expensive their care becomes.

The Iraq, and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, wars have produced a new crop of vets needing health care.  Advances in body armor and rapid evacuation of wounded troops have increased this need, as a much higher proportion of wounded soldiers are surviving.  Furthermore, we now are getting female vets with PTSD.  It turns out that they have require treatment different than that provided to male vets, and there is a lack of expertise in handling this.  As a result, the VA has had significant cost overruns this fiscal year. (Christian Science Monitor)

Earlier this year, there was a big fuss when it was learned that the VA would be one billion dollars over budget.  Now we learn that in the next fiscal year, the shortfall could be as high as 2.7 billion. (Gainesville Sun)

Early efforts to close the budget gap included a proposal to increase the copay for medication from $7 to $15, and to institute a yearly $250 fee.  Veteran's groups were not happy.  Those ordinary citizens who have $500 deductibles and $30 copays may wonder why those modest fees would be a problem.  But consider this: according to the CSM article linked above, one-third of  homeless men in the US are veterans.  

Critics at the Independent Institute and the Heritage Foundation allege that the VA wastes as much as $800 million due to fraudulent claims.  Given their $28 billion budget, that would be about 3% excess cost due to fraudulent claims.  That's bad, but one wonders how that figure compares to the fraud at Halliburton, and what percentage of homeless men are ex-Halliburton employees.  Yup, just goes to show, government should be run more like a business.