So what should you call a politician who praises VA operations?
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, wrote a column in Politico this week lauding the VA.
Dole, who was badly wounded in World War II, received his initial care in the military health system and continued treatment and rehabilitation at the VA. He declared in the column: "I am a product of both the Army's and VA's healthcare systems. They had a profound effect on my life—and the lives of millions of others. I know these organizations and their people well."
Dole advised in the same column that the Obama administration and congressional leaders "searching for ways to make the government more affordable and efficient . . . would do well to study the healthcare delivery system of the Department of Veterans Affairs."
The VA, with its decades-old VistA electronic health-record system, "is now considered 10 years to 15 years ahead of the private healthcare system when it comes to technology," Dole wrote. "Its success has largely been because of its commitment to innovation" and what Dole described as “its successful public-private collaboration.”
One of those collaborations is the VA's mail-order pharmacy automation system managed by McKesson Corp. Dole is a special counsel at Alston & Bird, the Washington-based law and lobbying firm that represents McKesson. Dole also cited a few other VA arrangements with companies he called public-private partnerships that are "crucial" to the VA's mission.
But the fact is, for the bulk of its operations, the VA remains one of the most socialized examples of socialized medicine on the planet.
For all of the shrieking we've heard in the past couple of years about the evils of socialized medicine—the nonsense about Dr. Donald Berwick's nomination to head CMS being imperiled in the Senate because Berwick he had some good things to say about the U.K.'s National Health System is but the latest example—what should be Bob Dole's punishment for praising the VA? Dock his government pension? And what about Dr. David Blumenthal, who in a recent interview said that the most thought-provoking place he had visited as head of the ONC was a small general practice in England and that France—yes, single-payer France—was interested in our national experiment with meaningful use? Good gravy, another Socialist?
We'd all do well to get over the name-calling and recognize and emulate excellence where ever we might find it, just as Blumenthal did. That would include listening to Bob Dole's advice on taking any beneficial lessons from the VA that are applicable and disseminating them broadly to lower costs and improve patient care.
As Bob Dole said, "Policy leaders looking for examples of proven efficiencies that can stretch the dollar can learn from VA."