#61 – Dick Bernard: VA and Medicare

This is post #5 of 13.  The others: July 24, 26, 27, 29, 31, August 1, 2,5,6,7,10,15
Side note: I notice that the presentation of the FEAR case against Health Care  Reform is intensifying.  This was expected.  The anti-debate will concentrate  on the emotional.   Most of the campaign will be through dishonest and misleading marketing techniques, like television ads, talk radio, internet stuff….  The pressure on legislators to “kill the bill” will intensify. 
Along with Social Security, Veteran’s Administration Medical care and Medicare are crown jewels in America’s social safety net.  Because they are federal programs and susceptible to the epithet “socialist” the opponents of single payer option and universal coverage for all would like to hide them in a closet, or slowly amend them to death.  But they are difficult to hide, and likely impossible to kill.  They’re all around us…and they’re big success stories.
MEDICARE:  I’ve been on Medicare for four years, which gives me a bit of experience from the consumer end. 
A couple of days ago, Medicare celebrated its 44th anniversary.  President Obama celebrated the occasion at a gathering of the American Association of Retired Persons, and got a good laugh when he told about a letter he received from a lady who was against his program, and against socialized medicine, “keep your hand off my Medicare“.    That’s how confusing this topic gets.  People can rail against the government, but in one way or another, if they are of a certain age, “keep your hands off my Medicare” is a pretty firm retort whether conservative or liberal.   Some history at http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761568111/Medicare_and_Medicaid.html
I’ve had a good experience with Medicare so far.  There are well documented instances of fraud, but they don’t reside with the consumers of the care like me, rather with alleged providers (“entrepreneurs”?) who game the system…criminals.
It is not necessary to go on at much length about Medicare as most everyone knows someone who’s on Medicare.  It is absolute proof positive that you have turned 65.  The people who want to get rid of Medicare generally talk very softly or obtusely.  They can’t go after it, at least not directly.  “Keep your hands off my Medicare“. 
Medicare isn’t perfect and it isn’t free.  Tens of thousands of dollars went into my Medicare account during the last twenty-four years of my working career.  Medicare recipients pay a premium for the insurance (it’s deducted from Social Security).  It has a deductible ‘out of pocket’ amount to be satisfied, and people who can afford to are well advised to buy supplements to fill the holes in coverage.  People on Medicare without other financial means are vulnerable.  The program is subject to quiet legislative mischief.  What you thought was covered, may be changed, information buried inside the big book of benefits you receive once a year.
What is very well hidden by the Free Marketers is that every Medicare dollar goes into the economy, just like their dollars.  It is not money down a black hole.  Simply, Medicare is an efficient competitor without the profit motive.
The major 2003 Medicare amendments, which basically prohibited competitive bidding on things like drugs, have proven to be an immense burden on the system, but these amendments were enacted for the primary benefit of the medical and pharmaceutical industries, not to enhance the efficiency of the system as a whole.  They were advertised as making Medicare better; they made it worse, in my opinion.  They were written by and for big business interests.  They hurt more than helped.
In my opinion, since Medicare couldn’t be killed outright, efforts have been and continue to be made to kill it quietly and slowly and thus privatize it, too. 
I think it’s fair to say that 43 million elderly and 2 million disabled recipients of Medicare would say, almost with a unanimous voice, “Keep your hands off my Medicare.”
I’m an honorably discharged U.S. Army veteran and thus theoretically eligible for VA benefits, but the odds of my ever truly qualifying for the wide array of VA care, including hospitalization, is not good.  There are eligibility criteria: potential recipients are divided into categories.  You can view the 8 Priority groups here http://tinyurl.com/dgknug.  They are basically self-explanatory.  Most likely I’m in category 8; I’ve never even tried to qualify.  (I am told that veterans, regardless of likely eligibility status, should make application anyway.  Certain benefits, like prescription drugs, may well be available through VA at lower cost than commercially.)
My grandfather, a Spanish American War veteran with less active service than I, and never part of the “regular Army” to my knowledge, got most of his medical treatment through VA, and died in a VA Hospital in 1957.  A veteran was a veteran, then.
I had extensive contact with the VA system during several years of major medical treatment for my brother-in-law, who died in November, 2007.   I was his representative; the rest of his family was gone.  For years, the VA system was his primary care.
I was extremely impressed with the services provided at the VA Hospitals at which he spent a considerable amount of time.
Along with his other problems Mike had been mentally ill since 1977, considered totally disabled by the illness and on Social Security Disability since 1982.  In the 2000s he was hospitalized on two occasions for major aneurysm operations.  He survived both surgeries, but a result of the second was lower extremity paralysis due to the length of the surgery and the location of the aneurysm.  He was warned of the possiblity of paralysis before the surgery.  Without the surgery he would not have lived at all.  Mike spent a lot of time in VA Hospitals.
In all of the time he was at the Minneapolis and Fargo ND VA facilities, he received outstanding treatment from a caring staff.  It was not a chore to go to see him.  In 1977 he was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in St. Cloud MN when his mental illness manifested itself.  There, too, the treatment and followup was first rate.
The treatment at these hospitals is likely rationed due to the fact that there are huge numbers of military veterans like myself, whose need for treatment in a federal facility ranges from very low to very high.  Unspoken, but probably a factor in under-funding of the VA (I was told the Minneapolis VA hospital had unused wings when my brother-in-law was there) is the matter of its competing with the medical, insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  VA Hospitals are efficient operations.  But they are a ymbolic and reat threat to “free market” types. 
So…Who do you know who’s on Medicare, Medicaid or is or has been a patient at a VA facility?  What is their story, and your interpretation?

1 reply
  1. Bob Barkley
    Bob Barkley says:

    Only when we accept that health care is not a business, shouldn’t be profit-driven, and is a basic human right, will we make any progress. In addition, any religion that does not accept and stress this is a sham. I see very few in the DC establishment, in either party who understand this, much less would risk their positions of power to fight for it.

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