vouchers for vets

Why do Tea Party opponents of Obamacare not attack the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, which are government-run, so pure socialism?  Obamacare, after all, works with private insurance companies and – at Republican insistence – does not offer the option of public insurance. Why not sell the VA hospitals and give veterans vouchers, which they can use to purchase private health insurance, just as school vouchers are used to purchase private schooling?

I discovered that some Republicans – notably Mitt Romney – have thought of this, but dropped the idea as a non-starter. Political writer Steve Benen (born 1973) two years ago wrote about the comments that Romney made during his primary campaign for the presidency.

Even the most conservative Republicans rarely venture into privatizing veterans’ health care benefits. ….

[So] Romney’s willingness to voucherize veterans’ care should be a pretty big deal. For the Washington Monthly, this has been a long-time area of interest — in 2005, we published a Philip Longman piece on V.A. hospitals called, “The Best Care Anywhere.”

As Longman explained at the time, “Who do you think receives higher-quality health care. Medicare patients who are free to pick their own doctors and specialists? Or aging veterans stuck in those presumably filthy VA hospitals with their antiquated equipment, uncaring administrators, and incompetent staff? An answer came in 2003, when the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study that compared veterans health facilities on 11 measures of quality with fee-for-service Medicare. On all 11 measures, the quality of care in veterans facilities proved to be ‘significantly better.’ ….

Yes, … it just so happens that world-class care comes in government-run facilities.

Romney, the Republican frontrunner, prefers to change this, and would apparently rather hand vets a voucher. Perhaps the inexperienced former one-term governor with no background on military policy hasn’t fully thought this through. For him to go this far on Veterans’ Day, of all days, seems remarkably tone deaf, even for him.

Update: A spokesperson for Veterans Of Foreign Wars made clear this afternoon, after being asked about Romney’s comments, “The VFW doesn’t support privatization of veterans health care.”

Steve Benen, “Romney eyes vouchers for veterans“, Political Animal (Washington Monthly blog), 11 November 2011.

Romney quickly dropped this idea, even though it makes as much (or as little) sense as opposition to Obamacare does. Free market fundamentalists would welcome the call of “vouchers for vets”. The Tea Party apparently wants government to stay away from VA hospitals and Medicare.

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