At Wednesday’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” Democrat Hillary Clinton accused opponent Donald Trump of wanting to privatize veterans’ health care. The accusation is false by any measure.
The Republican nominee’s actual proposal is to let veterans get medical treatment in the private sector and then bill the government — much like the Medicare system now works for senior citizens.
“There’s absolutely a disconnect there … The VA has pretty much proven that socialized medicine is a fool’s errand.”
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What makes Clinton’s criticism so odd is that many in her party long have pushed “Medicare for all,” which would eliminate age requirements and cover all Americans. Clinton herself proposed during the primaries that the Medicare eligibility age be lowered to 55 to cover more people.
Yet Clinton vigorously opposes reforms of the Department of Veterans Affairs that would give veterans the same options Medicare recipients have.
“There’s absolutely a disconnect there,” said Jason Pye, a spokesman for the conservative advocacy organization FreedomWorks.
Calls for VA reform have grown louder since a 2014 scandal in which some veterans died while waiting for appointments at backed-up VA health centers. Critics note that the VA — unlike Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare — is the only government-sponsored health program that severely restricts the ability of participants to choose their own health care providers.
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Pye said Trump’s proposal is a “vast improvement” over the current system.
“The VA has pretty much proven that socialized medicine is a fool’s errand,” he said, adding that he has intimate experience with the veteran health system because his father served in Vietnam. “I can tell you personally that the VA system is completely broken.”
Trump Seeks to Expand Choice
At the heart of Trump’s veterans health plan is a proposal to allow vets to use their veteran ID cards to get treatment from any doctor or health facility that accepts Medicare. At the forum Wednesday, he roundly rejected Clinton’s contention that the plan amounts to privatization.
“I never said take the VA, take the Veterans Administration private,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that. Too much respect for our people. I would never do that.”
Trump’s plan calls for firing underperforming bureaucrats, increasing funding to treat brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), improving health services for female veterans, and updating VA centers. He actually would expand the VA system by opening facilities in rural areas.
[lz_table title=”Giving Veterans Health Choices” source=”Gallup”]Veterans should be allowed to get health care from private providers*
Clinton takes a more centralized approach to VA reform. She pledges to modernize the agency and improve oversight in order to prevent situations that led to the wait list crisis two years ago. Her campaign website says she wants to “strategically purchase private-sector care” in special circumstances, such as specialty surgical procedures.
Darin Selnick, who served as special assistant to the secretary of veterans affairs under George W. Bush, said the VA already is partially privatized. He said private providers are responsible for about a quarter of services offered by the administration. The VA has contracted with private companies to run a number of community-based health clinics sponsored by the department.
Under a law passed two years ago, veterans may seek private care if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or would have to wait more than 30 days beyond when the VA determines an appointment is medically necessary. Trump believes that’s not good enough for veterans.
“He wants to take it out of the hands of the VA,” Selnick said. “Hillary Clinton does not believe in veterans having choice. She believes in socialized medicine. Her plan is the VA’s plan, which is, ‘Hey, we should be in control of everything.'”
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Expert Rejects Clinton’s ‘False Narrative’
Selnick served as a commissioner on a task force that submitted a report last month making 18 recommendations for reforming veterans health care. President Obama accepted 15 of them — but not one calling for expanded health choices.
“The key difference [between the Trump and Clinton positions] is really the most important thing we talked about on the commission — and the most controversial thing — and that’s giving veterans choice,” he said.
During the forum, Clinton argued that the basic VA health system needs to be preserved because the private sector lacks the expertise to treat the unique injuries and conditions of veterans.
Selnick called that a “false narrative.” He said 70 percent of doctors in the United States have training at VA hospitals. And most visits to VA centers are for routine health problems. He said some 60 percent of veterans have no service-related injuries or conditions at all. He pointed to an inspector general’s report indicating there was no significant difference in the quality of care provided by doctors at the VA and those in the private sector in 2010 and 2011.
What’s more, Selnick noted, Trump’s plan would leave the VA intact. By focusing on its core mission, the VA would be in a better position to provide the specialized services that are not commonly available in the private sector, he said.
“When you do too much, you lose everything,” he said.
By opposing choice for veterans seeking health care, Clinton is swimming against the tide. A Gallup poll in March indicated that 91 percent of Americans support allowing vets to get health care from any provider that accepts Medicare.
“This is what veterans want,” Selnick said. “This is what the American people want.”