Another Green Flag for Single Payer

Reflections on the VA Scandal

KevinMD — Dr. Kevin Pho — the popular physician blogger, suggests that single-payer advocates reevaluate the single-payer idea in light of the scandal now unfolding within the Veterans Health Administration. He calls the scandal “a red flag for those who want a national single-payer system in the United States.”

While his thoughtful essay teases out crucial details hidden in the mainstream discussion over the failures at the VA health system, the conclusion he draws seems to point in a direction opposite from the observations he makes...

It is true that government austerity programs — programs to reduce taxes upon the wealthy that we’ve seen across the world and over several recent decades — have gutted a panoply social programs. Like millions of recipients of public health and safety-net programs worldwide, VA patients (and caregivers) have suffered the consequences of austerity...

Right-wing ideologues assert that “the government” is the enemy of “the public” — for in their view, there is no social or personal issue that the profit motive can’t fix.

Some leading Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, along with media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, are seizing on the VA scandal to call for the privatization or “voucherization” of the VA. Others, including the Obama administration, have called for expanding the ability of veterans to use VA resources to purchase their care privately, outside the VA system. This proposal moves in the direction of weakening the VA’s system of integrated care, and would in effect facilitate the VA’s privatization down the road.

Yet the starting point for all sides in the debate over the VA scandal is the remarkable idea that every veteran deserves ready access to comprehensive health care, without a personal financial burden. It is significant that public funding for veterans’ health care is assumed. The idea that all the patients in the system deserve care — that no one deserves to be left out — is also assumed.

It is further significant Dr. Pho (and many others) see so clearly that the fundamental problem at the VA amounts to underfunding. True to form as a blogger, KevinMD traces the contours of the mainstream debate from a doctor’s point of view. In doing so he helps show that within the establishment an important shift is under way.

It may well turn out that the VA scandal, rather than constituting a red flag for single-payer advocates, amounts to a green flag for advocates to step up their drive for a publicly financed, publicly accountable health system – a nonprofit system that puts patients first.

Full article here.