Walter Reed Lessons for the Rest of Us

If a government-run system of health care is so dysfunctional in how it treats Americans who put their lives on the line defending our nation, how do you think a nationalized approach would treat the rest of us?

The scandal at Walter Reed Hospital, and lapses yet to be unveiled at other facilities across the nation, are a national embarrassment. These servicemen and women deserve the best. Instead, excessive red tape, poor housing, and unacceptable waiting lists are plaguing the system.

Rather than being honored for their sacrifice overseas, some veterans and their families now face financial and psychological suffering, as their claims sit in a pile while they try to figure out a complex system of benefits.

While Veteran Administration (VA) facilities have made great gains over their previously described "hell hole" status, the current scandal at Walter Reed Hospital (run by the Department of Defense) reveals the limitations of a government-managed health care system. To the extent possible, Walter Reed is probably trying to meet the needs of its constituency under a tight budget framework. Obviously, there is extraordinary demand on the system, with specialty procedures and treatments that are more complex and costly due to horrific war injuries.

Operating under government-imposed constraints alongside a surge in demand, rationing and poorer quality have been the outcome. Thus, the horror stories.

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The application of the lesson for a national health care model

Indeed, the individual horror stories of veterans being heard at congressional hearings this week mirror those voiced regularly in nations with socialized health care systems.

Across the pond, it is commonplace for Brits suffering with tooth pain to simply extract on their own. Even the political elite are not shielded from the shortcomings in Great Britain’s system. As reported by the Daily Mail, a former Member of Parliament and "veteran left-winger" is suing the system because the drug treatment needed for an eye disease has taken months to be approved by the rationing board that makes such decisions.

Unfortunately, as Alice Mahon sat waiting, her vision in one eye is almost gone. She is now funding her own treatment (which is very expensive). At least privately financed health care remains an option for those who can afford it.

To our north, Canada’s socialized framework is imploding. The Supreme Court ruled that Quebec patients can privately finance their own care (which was illegal prior to the decision) when waiting lists put their lives at risk. Such has been the case as patients wait months upon end for radiation treatments, hip replacements and the like, and have literally died waiting for care.
(Resource: The annual "Waiting Your Turn" report by the Fraser Institute compiles the average waiting times for procedures and treatments in Canada. The results are not pretty.)

Socialized health care approaches being proposed by politicians in the U.S. will have an impact on quality and efficiency with respect to patient care. They also remain a lousy proposition for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Pay-or-play schemes and mandates regarding employee coverage (in some states such systems exist) will lead to total loss of control of this critical business cost. Tighter controls from government are already the driver of higher costs and fewer health coverage choices in most states.

What is happening at Walter Reed should serve to educate politicians about the limitations of government-managed health care. There is no question that veterans deserve the best care. But politicians need to shed their biases to honestly review whether, over the long term, a government-controlled system is in the best interests of both veterans and all other Americans.

Card-Check Follow Up

On March 1, the House passed H.R. 800 by a vote of 241-185. Thirteen Republicans joined 228 Democrats to pass the "Employee Free Choice Act." Two Democrats voted against the legislation.

(See how your U.S. House member voted by clicking here.)

As reviewed in a previous Small Business Beltway Report for FOX News, H.R. 800 strips employees of their right to a private vote with respect to union representation. A card-check system would be mandated, which means if 51 percent of employees sign a card in favor of union representation, the business becomes a union shop.

The outlook for the legislation is uncertain, as the bill lacks the same depth of support in the Senate. The rules will make it more difficult to advance, and President Bush said he would veto H.R. 800 if it reached his desk.

Below are just a few of the questions and comments I received from Small Business Beltway Report readers (the length of all comments have been trimmed due to space limitations). My response follows each:

Comments from "R.B.": Your question as to why people aren't joining unions anymore and your answer are incredibly stupid. You know the answer. The business community working hand in glove with government and people like you have virtually destroyed unionism not only in this country but worldwide.

Kerrigan responds: Don’t shoot the messenger. In my opinion, unions are destroying themselves. And in terms of being greedy, wow, what about the many union leaders who get caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

Comments from "A.H.": How do you stop a bill with 233 sponsors? More importantly, how do you get entrepreneurs to risk their time and treasure after a bill like this is passed? Jobs will be lost, but the Democrats who support the bill won’t mind.

Kerrigan responds: The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate as 60 votes will be needed for passage. The president said he would veto the bill. House passage may have been the bill’s high-water mark – in this Congress. A favorable political alignment in 2008 will bring the issue back to life, and that is what the unions are aiming for.

Comments from "D.H.": While I am not against unions per se, for I do believe they provide a niche benefit, I’m convinced that the majority of them have outlived their usefulness—in large part because they have not evolved to represent a 21st century workforce. Where is the provision for a "union shop" to do a card-check and shed the mantle of the union if a majority of the employees decide it’s no longer in their best interest? Only if such a clause or amendment is included can this truly be considered an "Employee Free Choice Act."

Kerrigan responds: Good observation. Yes, that was proposed in committee and voted down on a partisan basis.

Comments from "Y.H.": If people wish to join a union, particularly in the service industries, they should be allowed to without employers being able to penalize them. What I don't understand is how this hurts workers? So what it's not anonymous? It never really was. I know how things run on the inside. This is great for workers and I hope the Democrats can get it passed.

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Kerrigan responds: A secret ballot protects workers from employers. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., sponsor of the bill, recognized the importance of the secret ballot when he wrote Mexican officials demanding this approach: "We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they may otherwise not choose."

OK, so what changed? You tell me.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that works to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship. She is also founder of Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. , an association helping women business owners succeed through education, networking and advocacy. Kerrigan can be reached at .