VA Mess Shows Deeper Woes

The problems plaguing the Veterans Administration underscore an unpleasant truth about aging: Ever-increasing costs and red tape endanger quality health care for older Americans, whether they are veterans or not. Their best defense is to build up enough personal capital to pay for better care on their own.

Health-care snafus are not new, just worse than ever as the nation ages. VA officials warned the Obama Administration over five years ago that the agency’s facilities reported inaccurate waiting times and scheduling failures that harmed veterans seeking care. The national focus is new; the difficulties are not.

The Veterans Health Administration is true government-run health care. The government owns and operates the facilities; doctors and all personnel are federal employees. In “socialized” medical systems like the VA, state control is total. (Though the president did tap the private sector and called on former Procter and Gamble executive Robert McDonald to turn the agency around.)

Appearing on a Las Vegas PBS show Aug. 9, 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he sees the Affordable Care Act as a first step to a fully government-run health-care system similar to the single-payer system in Canada and Great Britain. While that idea has proponents, lessons from elsewhere suggest caution.

On May 20, a study from Canada’s Fraser Institute, a public-policy think tank in Vancouver, noted “lengthy wait times for health care may have contributed to the deaths of an estimated 44,273 Canadian women between 1993 and 2009.” The study also found that “for every one-week increase in wait times for medically necessary elective procedures, three Canadian women died.”

In 2012, the premier of Newfoundland provoked criticism for seeking heart surgery in the U.S. Stories about Canadians crossing the border for care to avoid delays abound. Here at home, we continue to hear of difficulties that citizens encounter in finding doctors who will take Medicare and Medicaid. While we do not know the long-term implications of the Affordable Care Act and other government-supported medical and drug programs, there are health-care and wealth-care decisions that you should make.

Nothing is free. A couple on Medicare in reasonable health and taking generic drugs for various conditions like diabetes or hypertension easily can spend $12,000 to $14,000 per year on premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and donut holes. A 2013 Fidelity study indicated that the average couple could expect to spend more than $220,000 for health care over the course of their retirement. This figure greatly exceeds the $50,000 estimate that roughly half of the pre-retirees surveyed thought they would need.

There is a long list of things that Medicare won’t pay for, including long-term care. Long before AARP mails you a membership card, increase savings just to cover retirement expenses. Such outlays, including health care and assisted living expenses, are likely to be far more than you think. While you are younger and healthy, explore insurance solutions. Insurers are tightening underwriting standards, and gender-based pricing is costing females more.

Fiscal fitness and physical fitness correlate when it comes to freedom and impendence in retirement, or working beyond full retirement age under Social Security if you wish. All that stuff on your bucket list? It takes money and energy to actualize dreams.

Be in position financially to opt for private-pay medical solutions or concierge services if needed to assure timely access and care you need. Add “medical services freedom” to your budget and asset-building strategies. For all that we hear about the virtues of the Canadian system, a financial planner in Canada has a client in British Columbia who needs prostate surgery.

Canadian health care will pay for regular prostate surgery but not robotics. Says his advisor, “So he is paying $7,000 for the better surgery with the likelihood of better outcomes.” The U.S. system appears to be headed down the same road.

Get regular checkups and exercise; hire a personal trainer. Preventative medicine and staying as healthy as possible may be the best antidote to a medical system plagued by bureaucratic red tape and interference in the doctor-patient relationship. It isn’t just veterans who must be wary.

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Lewis Walker, CFP, is president of Walker Capital Management LLC, Peachtree Corners, Ga. Securities and certain advisory services offered through the Strategic Financial Alliance Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative of SFA, which is otherwise unaffiliated with Walker Capital Management. 770-441-2603.

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