It was just last week that Eric Shinseki — rightfully so — resigned from his position as Veterans Affairs Secretary.
His resignation came, of course, amid a scandal involving delayed care for veterans. It’s a situation that was, and remains, embarrassing, to say the least. And frankly, I’m surprised over the lack of media attention it has received.
One of the most interesting things about the scandal are interviews with the veterans themselves. The general consensus? Meh. For years, the lousy VA health care system has been something of a joke.
Although the rest of us — including the media and the administration — finally caught on, this is not a new problem. Crappy medical care, long waits and overall health care inefficiencies have plagued the VA for years. And one thing needs to be mentioned about the scandal: It’s not just a veterans’ problem; it’s an American problem.
And this isn’t me discounting the situtation here, by any means. I have a deep love for veterans. My father and both grandfathers were military men. I’m horrified by it all.
But the VA “scandal,” as we call it, illuminates problems in the health care system as a whole. It’s another flaw — or, more accurately, a failure — of the “greatest health care system in the world.” Simply put, those who need care most aren’t getting it in a timely manner.
Just like the Veterans Affairs scandal was years in the making, I don’t doubt that years from now, we’ll be having the same conversation about the rest of our country. Though we’ll call it some new scandal — and we’ll be outraged for a hot minute — the news will die down, and debate over what we should do will end. Meanwhile, those of us who’ve experienced this firsthand will just collectively sigh, as we knew about this all along. And there is seemingly nothing to be done about it.
The data is already there. All over the nation, according to health consulting firm Merritt Hawkins, Americans are waiting longer than ever to get medical care.
Take Boston, for example. There, you’ll wait 45.4 days for a specialist and a whopping 66 days to see your primary care physician. That’s sickening. A matter of minutes can make a difference when it comes to medical care, so do we really want to think about what waiting 66 days will do? The situation is even worse for rural areas because they don’t have as many doctors as cities do.
Even more powerful than the hard data are our own stories about waiting for medical care. We all know someone who has been hurt by the system. In many cases, it’s been us. And there’s nothing more poignant to say about it than it just plain sucks. I recently was put on the fast-track list for a procedure doctors told me was vital, but I still wasn’t able to schedule sooner than a couple of months out.
And we wonder why people go to emergency rooms for care. It’s not because we’re stupid and don’t understand that the ER is expensive and costs the rest of the nation. It’s not just the uninsureds going to get treatment they don’t have access to. People go because they get care immediately, even when they have a so-called doctor waiting to see them — three months down the road.
It’s also important to note the swelling patient protection that will need providers under Obamacare. Our doctor shortage is already unsustainable. The problem will worsen. And one day, we’ll all be talking about it just like we’re talking about the VA problem now.
But what good is acknowledging a problem without doing anything about it?