Government-Run Healthcare

By / 10.11.2010

This post is the third in a series about the Progressive Military

The wounds from the healthcare debate in America are still fresh.  There are many in the GOP Congressional minority that would see the healthcare bill repealed, and there has been much scare-mongering about a government-run healthcare system – that patients will be lost in the bureaucracy, they’ll lose control over their health decisions, the quality of care will suffer, and the costs will be tremendous.

If the Veterans Administration healthcare system is an example, those fears are overblown. The military’s government-run healthcare system is not just good in the field, it’s good at home as well and shows that government can do healthcare.

I was a customer of 100% government-run healthcare for eight years.  I visited the emergency room, received all my shots and checkups, got my wisdom teeth pulled, and received my prescribed medication all without being killed or turned away by some bureaucrat.  I received the same level of care everywhere, whether in Missouri, Washington, Germany, or Iraq.  And not just me, my family as well.  I’m not alone.  There are over 1.4 million Americans on active duty in the U.S. military.  If you include their family members, retirees, and those receiving Veterans Administration benefits, the number swells to over 9 million Americans already actively receiving government healthcare.

Active duty troops and their families use the 532 active military medical facilities nationwide and enroll in TRICARE, which is the military’s government-run healthcare system.  Reservists called to active duty over 30 days are covered as well.  For retirees, TRICARE fills the gap for what Medicare doesn’t cover.  CHAMPVA gives the same coverage to family members of disabled or deceased service members no longer serving and gives them access to Veterans Administration hospitals.  The Veterans Administration system (VA) coverage has changed from serving only troops with service-connected disabilities to serving all veterans based upon need.  There are over 24 million Americans eligible for VA medical benefits at over 1000 facilities nationwide, 9 million of which are over 65.

It’s a well-known fact that the traumas caused on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan lead, by necessity, to innovations in trauma care.  As an Iraq war veteran, I saw this in action personally with our combat medics, especially when they patched me up after suicide car-bomber hit my vehicle head-on.   The military health system also develops medical technology, techniques, and procedures that can be used in the civilian world.

The Army’s National Trauma Institute, in cooperation with several universities, collects data from wounded soldiers to identify what can be done to improve their first-response treatment and will help not only on the battlefield, but in civilian hospitals as well.  The military is making an exemplary push to digitize medical records in order to make them easier to search through and transfer between locations, not to mention saving money.  This idea was picked up in the new healthcare legislation.

The uniformity of the military medical system also pays dividends in health safety against epidemics and pandemics, as exhibited by the fast and nearly-comprehensive immunization rate of soldiers against H1N1.  Achieving such rates quickly among the civilian population would be improbable.  I and many other soldiers are also vaccinated against diseases many in the civilian population are not anymore, namely small pox and anthrax.  Our troops also get the flu shot at the beginning of every flu season.  The military was the first to test the effectiveness of flu nasal-spray vaccinations compared with shots to reduce the use and cost of needles.  This is done not just for their health, but also to save the system from having to pay more money for sick sailors and airmen later.

The military is devoted to preventing disease, illness, and injury not only because it they take troops off the field, but they also cost the system money.  The U.S. Army Public Health Command and similar organizations in the other services are devoted exclusively to this mission.

If you contrast a system that has an interest in seeing that you to stay healthy because it saves them (the government) money with a system that makes money when you are sick, (insurance companies, HMOs) one can see that a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  A similar government system implemented nationwide would save people money, improve their health, and save lives.  If universal government-run healthcare is good enough for the troops, it’s good enough for us all.

It’s true the system is not perfect. There have been scandals surrounding military healthcare, such as the living conditions for recovering troops at Walter Reed Medical Center and veterans groups (some of which I am a member of) constantly push for improvements to the VA system.  But in general the quality of military healthcare is very good, and proof that government-run healthcare can indeed work.

Photo credit: US Army Africa