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Op-Ed: Fixing Healthcare in a Free Market: The Walter Reed Tragedy

By Michael Billy     May 26, 2008 in Health
The way the political winds are blowing seems to indicate that the United States is, in fact, headed for some sort of Universal Healthcare.
This article is part 5 of a 5-part series
Both Democratic candidates for president want some type of a national health plan and even the major Republican candidate has proposals that will increase government involvement in the healthcare industry.
The government of the United States, however, has a bad track record when it comes to implementing types of Socialized Medicine.
Take, for instance, the case of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), located in Washington, D.C.
The United States government gives military personnel free health coverage and the center is one of the places where they can get the care. An article in the Washington Post has recently been published exposing the hospital for keeping its patients in terrible conditions. One of the buildings that are part of the WRAMC has been described as being infested with cockroaches and rats. Reports from some of the soldiers there have described cases of black mold, stained carpets, cheap mattresses, and living conditions with no heat or water.
In addition, the level of bureaucracy at the hospital is absolutely atrocious. More than twenty documents are required for a soldier to access to the hospital. Sixteen different information systems are required to process the information, but few of them are actually capable of communicating with each other. The army does have personnel databases, three of them in fact, but they are not able to communicate with each other, or interface with the hospital’s record keeping databases. These problems have led to soldiers needing to prove they were in a war in order to even gain access to the facility, because employees are often unable to locate the records.
You may be thinking that this has to be an isolated case, but veterans are receiving inadequate care in government run facilities all across the nation. In one case, a Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) psychologist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans' Center in Temple, Texas was caught discouraging staffers from diagnosing soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder. "[G]iven that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," she said in an e-mail, "...consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder."
There is also the case of Benjamin Houghton, a 47 year old Air Force veteran who had undergone a procedure to have a testicle removed because it may have harbored cancer cells. After the surgery a gruesome tragedy was revealed: they removed the wrong one. The steps that were in place to avoid such a mistake were ignored and Houghton is now seeking $200,000 in damages.
The good news, however, is that Americans are not completely blind and a majority of them (62%) will agree that Iraq War veterans are not receiving quality care. Yet a large number of U.S. citizens -- especially Democrats who pounded the Bush Administration for the conditions at Walter Reed -- are still pushing for Universal Healthcare.
If the United States government is not even able to take care of the veterans that fought in their name, then how could they ever provide healthcare for the entire nation? The answer is simple: they cannot, and any attempt will surely fail. The United States government needs to deregulate the healthcare market and allow individuals to be responsible for the decisions they make in the healthcare market. Only then will the healthcare crisis be solved.
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