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SUNDAY, MAY 25, 2014

Smart Bombs: VA vouchers no solution

Now that veterans’ health care is under the microscope, conservatives are predictably uttering “vouchers” as a solution.

For instance, Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer said, “If you would suggest that we go to a voucher system where everybody will get a voucher for treatment in any hospital he or she chooses, and I were a vet, I would choose that. I would rather go to Georgetown University hospital than to a VA.”

Let’s put this privatization proposal under the microscope. Let’s assume veterans were to get a voucher and the money would come from the current Veterans Affairs budget. This could work if the price of private care and VA care were the same. But private care costs a lot more, so veterans’ dollars wouldn’t stretch as far. At some point, the VA budget would have to go up, or patients would have to pay more out of pocket, or health care for veterans would have to be rationed.

Suddenly, that trip to the expensive private hospital doesn’t sound so swell. When Mitt Romney floated this idea during the 2012 presidential race, the Veterans of Foreign Wars quickly shot it down.

Remember, when you hear the word “voucher,” always ask how much. If it doesn’t cover current or projected costs, it’s just a way to cut service or shift costs to the recipients.

In care of. The VA scandal was sparked by the revelation that 40 patients in Phoenix may have died while waiting for a health care appointment. That is tragic, but there are no safe harbors elsewhere.

The Journal of Patient Safety published a report in September 2013 stating that medical errors account for between 210,000 to 440,000 deaths per year. Some medical associations dispute that and are sticking to the 1999 Institutes of Medicine report “To Err is Human,” which put the annual total at 98,000.

The Real Reagan. In Idaho, the old Reagan Republicans are mad at the new Reagan Republicans for co-opting the name right before the election. It’s all very confusing, which was the point. Even more confusing is why either side is invoking Ronald Reagan in the first place.

Was it “The Gipper’s” embrace of amnesty in signing an immigration reform bill? Spending that greatly expanded the federal budget deficit? The big payroll tax increase that rescued Social Security? Was it introducing a tax on the Social Security benefits of richer Americans? Was it tax reform that equalized the rates on capital gains and paychecks? Perhaps the nickel-per-gallon increase in the gas tax?

A modern-day conservative who takes those positions is branded a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Then again, “The Gipper” had another nickname, “Teflon Ron,” because nothing stuck to him.

Don’t rain on me. Apparently the urge to take back the country isn’t as strong as imagined by constitutionalists and assorted fringe groups who organized Operation American Spring. Hadn’t heard of this? You’re not alone.

Organizers oblivious to how extreme they really are envisioned up to 30 million people marching the streets of Washington, D.C., as part of a nonviolent rally that would bring the business of the federal government to a screeching halt. Then leaders of both major parties would be deposed. One of the organizers, Col. Harry Riley, told the Washington Times, “We are calling for [their] removal … as a start toward constitutional restoration. They have all abandoned the U.S. Constitution, are unworthy to be retained in a position that calls for servant status.”

Problem is, instead of tens of millions of patriots, the May 16 event drew closer to 10. The grand opening of Spokane’s Sonic Drive-in drew more traffic. Organizers explained that it rained the day before, so that may have put a damper on the revolution.

Apparently, the original patriots had nicer weather at Valley Forge.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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