Don’t privatize the ‘best care anywhere’

DON’T PRIVATIZE THE ‘BEST CARE ANYWHERE’…. In a normal year, Ken Buck would be having a lot more trouble as a major-party U.S. Senate nominee. The far-right Coloradoan does, after all, support repealing the 17th Amendment, privatizing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, scraping the federal student loan program, and has talked about banning birth control and all abortion rights, even in cases of rape or incest. He’s even said liberals are a bigger threat than terrorists.

But as things stand, polls show him with a narrow lead headed into November. Of course, the more Buck talks, the more Colorado voters have a chance to understand his ideology. We recently learned, for example, that Buck thinks it makes sense to privatize VA hospitals.

“Would a Veterans Administration hospital that is run by the private sector be better run then by the public sector? In my view, yes.”

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.’ … The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a study that compared veterans health facilities with commercial managed-care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients. In seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care.”

Yes, the taxpayer-financed, government-run V.A. hospitals are some of the finest medical facilities in the country. Buck thinks they’d be better off being privatized, but that’s largely because he’s popping off on a subject he doesn’t understand.

As his quote gained attention, the Buck campaign “clarified” the matter, telling reporters, “Ken said that private companies do a better job than the government…. Take a look at Walter Reed.”

That might make sense, if Walter Reed were a V.A. hospital — it’s not — and if the government weren’t already doing such a good job with actual V.A. facilities.

In other words, Buck helped demonstrate that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and compounded the problem, by having his campaign spokesperson show he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, either.

Voters may not care, but given the number of veterans we have deserve first-class medical care, they probably should.