During a roundtable in South Carolina on Veterans’ Day, Mitt Romney floated the idea of partially privatizing the veterans health care system, saying, “Sometimes you wonder if there would be some way to introduce some private-sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, that each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them, and then they can choose whether they want to go in the government system or in a private system with the money that follows them.”
Veterans groups swiftly condemned the proposal, and today Romney himself backed away from privatization in an interview with the Nashua Telegraph:
ROMNEY: I have no proposal of that nature [to privatize the VA]. We has a group of veterans and said, ‘tell me about the quality of your care.’ Some were concerned about the quality of their health care. I said, ‘what kind of options do you have, what do you think about a system that let you go to private as well as VA hospitals?’ The response was mixed, but I don’t have any proposal of that nature. We have a VA system that needs to be improved and I’ve got no plans to change that other than to make it better and to invest more money in providing for our veterans.
Romney’s characterization of veterans’ reactions is rose-colored to say the least. In 2008 — when then-GOP presidential nominee offered a very similar proposal — AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars argued that while veterans should have access to private care, providing “rural veterans greater access to VA-sponsored care exclusively through private providers” would undermine the existing health care system. In their annual report, “The Independent Budget,” the groups argued that the VA’s “specialized health-care programs” would “suffer irreparable impact by the loss of veterans from those programs” and argued that the prosthetic research program “would lose focus and purpose were service-connected and other enrolled veterans no longer present in VA health care.”
The fully integrated veterans’ health care structure of doctors and hospitals actually provides veterans with benefits that are the envy of the rest of the health care system. A study by the RAND Corporation found that “VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care” and “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.” So Romney is right to back away from efforts to privatize the system that already delivers “higher quality of care” than private providers. Now if only he would apply that same logic to some of his other health care proposals.