The stories about Veterans Administration health care keep flowing in to counteract New York Times Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's claim that the the VA system "manages to combine quality care with low costs." The latest is from Senator Grassley, who reports that "the wrong filter was used in dialysis machines at the V.A. Palo Alto Health Care System last year, putting 83 patients and possibly more who were treated using the contaminated machines at risk of being infected with hepatitis, HIV, or other infectious diseases." Says Mr. Grassley, "this is not the first incident of contaminated equipment in the VA health system. The Associated Press reported that in February 2009 the V.A. started notifying more than 11,000 patients treated at three VA medical centers to get their blood checked because they may have been exposed to infectious body fluids. It was discovered two months earlier that equipment used for colonoscopies at these three hospitals was not properly cleaned or sterilized."
This report comes on top of news of the Philadelphia V.A. prostate cancer unit that, according to the New York Times, "botched 92 of 116 cancer treatments over a span of more than six years." And on top of a finding that at a V.A. Medical Center in Marion, Ill., seven out of 180 patients between October 2006 and December of 2006 died during or after surgery. "This mortality rate was more than four times greater than expected when considering the patients' physical conditions prior to surgery," a government report said, in part because "physicians had privileges to perform procedures without evidence of competence to perform the procedures."
As I said before, some government health-care organizations, like the National Institutes of Health, are amazing, as good or better than any private facilities. And some for-profit, non-government hospitals are as bad, or worse, than the V.A. But if what is being delivered via the V.A. is what advocates of more government involvement in health care define as "quality care," a lot of voters, and patients, have reason to be concerned.