For the past couple of years after the exposure of the Veterans Administration wait-time scandal, its defenders have continuously fended off serious reform proposals by focusing on the VA’s quality of care. Veterans who managed to run the Byzantine maze of fake lists and cooked appointment books got top-quality care, they insisted, assuming they were still alive to take advantage of it. Democrats from Hillary Clinton down warn about “privatizing” the VA by offering scary visions of a supposedly steep drop in medical assistance.
Curiously, though, the VA has stopped sharing its quality-of-care data despite a statutory obligation to do so. If the quality of care is that good, why has it suddenly become proprietary information? USA Today’s Donovan Slack wonders, too:
For years, the VA provided data on a number of criteria to the Hospital Compare web site run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Department of Health and Human Services. The site includes death and readmission rates and other measures of quality for public and private hospitals around the country, as well as national averages.
After the VA scandal, Congress passed the law mandating the VA to submit even more data. But the VA confirmed to USA TODAY last week that it stopped reporting its information July 1.
Joe Francis, director of clinical analytics and reporting at the Veterans Health Administration, said lawyers at HHS advised the VA to pull the plug until the two agencies could work out a new deal governing the sharing of information.
If that’s the problem, though, why did the agency take down its own website?
In a separate move, the VA also took down its own site in February that provided side-by-side quality comparisons of its hospitals. That page, hospitalcompare.va.gov, is now simply blank.
Francis said the VA took it down because it didn’t meet accessibility requirements — using colors, for example, such as red, green and yellow to indicate how well a VA medical center was performing was not accessible to visually impaired people.
That only makes sense in the kind of bureaucratic environment that produces fake wait lists, so perhaps it’s true. By all means, we can’t have that information available to 95% of veterans if it’s temporarily unavailable to 5% of them. And perhaps it also takes seven months for someone at the VA to code color into their web design.
But … it doesn’t sound likely. It sounds more like the VA doesn’t want to publish that data, even though the law requires them to do so. That suggests that their data on performance might still look like veterans face long wait times and lack of responsiveness in markets even after numerous promises by this administration that the system works fine but just needs better personnel … and more money, of course.
Here’s a question to ponder. Would this administration allow a private-sector provider to simply ignore the law for months on patient-care metrics? Not on your life … and that’s what veterans risk in this failing single-payer system. It’s yet another reason why veterans deserve a choice for their care, and the VA owes them that portability.