As Tim Noah points out at MSNBC, people wait at least as long, and probably longer, to get a doctor’s appointment in the private sector than they do at the Veterans’ Administration.

Directly comparable data for the private sector are unavailable. But a 2014 survey (pdf) of physician wait times found the average private-sector wait time to be 18.5 days – two and a half days less than at the VA. In Boston, which has a high concentration of top-quality private-sector hospitals, the average wait time was 45.4 days.

This private-sector survey almost certainly skews low because it was conducted in 15 cities rather than the entire country, and because it was limited to five specialties (cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family practice). Also, the survey was limited to Medicare and Medicaid patients, many of whom—a quarter of the Medicare patients and more than half of the Medicaid patients — the doctors declined to treat at all, reducing their wait times artificially to zero. Since everyone requesting a VA appointment comes pre-approved, VA health providers must make appointments for 100% of those who request one.

If the Republicans want to make the scandal at a few veterans’ hospitals into an argument against socialized medicine, they are going to lose that argument.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at