Healthcare as a Public Service: Redesigning U.S. Healthcare with Well being and Fairness on the Middle – Non Revenue Information

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Click on right here to obtain this text because it seems within the journal, with accompanying paintings.

This text is from the Winter 2021 situation of the Nonprofit Quarterly, “We Thrive: Well being for Justice, Justice for Well being.

What may healthcare appear like if the revenue motive had been faraway from the supply of care altogether? If healthcare had been designed as a public service, what potentialities would exist for well being fairness, well being system resilience, and decreased prices? The a number of crises of our present healthcare sector, laid naked by COVID-19, ought to transfer us to ask deeper questions on how our investments into the healthcare sector needs to be employed to maximise the well being and well-being of our folks and financial system.

There are, sadly, few brilliant spots in a system that has allowed a couple of in 5 hundred People to die as a result of COVID-19.1 Many readers could also be shocked to be taught that one of many few highlights in healthcare efficiency through the pandemic comes not from the nation’s richest hospital methods or greatest names in drugs however from the poorly understood and sometimes maligned Veterans Well being Administration (VHA).

The VHA—the nation’s solely totally public, built-in healthcare system—has loads to inform us about how a nationwide healthcare service for the USA may function, and never only for its efficiency amid COVID-19. Certainly, mixed with different public healthcare establishments, it may show to be a essential establishment to attaining well being justice.

Whereas the brand new is usually fetishized, generally the best and possible fashions usually are not new; they simply want dusting off in order that we will see them for what they’re. Healthcare as a public service is one such mannequin, and the VHA may assist jump-start a revival of this mannequin right this moment.


U.S. Healthcare in Disaster

The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally uncovered the weaknesses of the nation’s fragmented, inequitable, and terribly costly healthcare system. Within the early days of the pandemic, as income from elective procedures cratered, many well being methods furloughed employees, reduce their hours, or decreased pay, at the same time as demand for emergency care as a result of COVID-19 exploded. Many hospitals resorted to rationing care, and a few shuttered altogether. More and more, we’re witnessing the collapse of U.S. healthcare, as a number of crises—together with lack of rural hospitals, shortages of physicians, and overpriced remedies—collide.2

Laborious although it might be to imagine, right this moment healthcare consumes nearly one fifth of all the U.S. financial system. That is excess of most different superior economies, at the same time as well being outcomes fail to match this extraordinary expenditure.3 Life expectancy in the USA has been declining for years, and present well being inequities have solely been exacerbated by the pandemic. To do higher requires altering how the nation funds, administers, and allocates healthcare sources.

The VHA’s pandemic expertise supplies some useful classes. When COVID-19 hit, the VHA, somewhat than contracting, expanded to fulfill wants. It opened its doorways to just accept a whole lot of nonveteran sufferers and despatched employees to help in non-VA hospitals and nursing properties. By September 2021, it had supplied practically one million items of private protecting tools to non-VA services and despatched personnel to greater than fifty states and territories to help native authorities and well being methods.4

The division moved swiftly to guard its staff and sufferers, limiting nonessential guests at services, screening returning troopers, and providing telehealth choices nationwide for each medical and psychological well being providers. It additionally used its novel tele-ICU (intensive care unit) program to assist alleviate the stress on overtaxed ICUs. VA-run nursing properties fared so effectively that the VA was requested to take over some state-level Veterans Houses from the personal, for-profit corporations experiencing crises.5

On this time of extraordinary challenges for the healthcare sector, what can this story of two well being methods educate us?


Healthcare as a Public Service

The VHA operates like a Beveridge-style well being system. Beveridge, for the uninitiated, refers back to the British economist William Henry Beveridge, writer of the famed Beveridge Report throughout World Warfare II that set the foundations for what would in the UK change into that nation’s enormously in style Nationwide Well being System.6

In such a system, each the payer and supplier are public: Funding for the VHA, for instance, is appropriated by Congress; VHA personnel are salaried public staff; and the hospitals, clinics, and tools used to serve sufferers are publicly owned. Like the UK, Spain, New Zealand, Cuba, Hong Kong, and far of Scandinavia make use of this mannequin for just about their complete healthcare sector.7 Quite than looking for to maximise revenue and allocate sources primarily based on capacity to pay, these methods run like public providers.

With out the constraints of market imperatives, Beveridge-style methods are free to undertake public-interest missions. For instance, the VHA’s principal mission is to look after the nation’s veterans, whereas one of many missions (referred to as its “Fourth Mission”) of its dad or mum company, the Veterans Administration (VA), is to enhance the nation’s emergency preparedness and function a backup to the remainder of the healthcare sector throughout emergencies.

Whereas many of those healthcare methods have suffered instances of extreme underfunding and privatization makes an attempt, their recognition with each sufferers and healthcare staff has usually endured over time. Even Brexiteers acknowledged the efficiency of the U.Okay.’s Nationwide Well being Service (NHS) as a totemic expression of British values after they pledged that leaving the European Union would imply an additional £350 million every week for the NHS—a pledge that was emblazoned on the facet of their marketing campaign bus.

There are likewise legitimate criticisms of the VHA. It has actually not all the time been managed in the most effective curiosity of its sufferers or employees.8 Persisting geographic variations within the availability and accessibility of a few of its providers drawback some teams of veterans over others.9 Continual underfunding coupled with rising calls for by Congress and the manager department have contributed to essential staffing shortages and unmet objectives to modernize its infrastructure.10 However regardless of these challenges, the VHA has delivered spectacular enhancements in current many years and—most vital—well being outcomes persistently equal to or higher than these within the personal sector.11

The general public nature of the VHA doesn’t, by default, make it the right well being system. However as a result of it is freed from the imperatives of revenue looking for, the VHA can create area for different imperatives—for instance, centering sufferers’ wants, coaching and retaining a extremely expert and efficient healthcare workforce, and advancing the science of medication. Additionally, as a single built-in system, the VHA can handle its shared belongings throughout a number of websites and transfer each employees and provides from one geographic location to a different extra simply than private-sector opponents. This capacity to steward sources for the collective good is especially helpful in instances of emergency or sudden pressure—reminiscent of a provide chain failure—on the healthcare sector.


Public Healthcare, American-Type

Constructing a Beveridge-style well being system for all primarily based on the VHA—a type of “VA for all”—would rework the economics of U.S. healthcare by eradicating extractive revenue looking for from medical health insurance, the supply of care, and the procurement of medical provides. It will additionally drastically scale back political seize by the healthcare business, thus eradicating one of many key obstacles to such long-sought reforms as Medicare for All and enabling the federal government to barter drug costs with pharmaceutical corporations.

How may a “VA for all”–fashion system profit payers, suppliers, and sufferers alike?

First, scaling the VHA would improve the effectivity of healthcare spending via strictly evidence-based care, decreased duplication in testing and procedures, and much decrease prescription costs. Furthermore, the VHA mannequin depends on a basis of complete major and preventative care providers. These “first greenback” investments scale back demand for extra expensive care later. For instance, a 2018 research of dual-eligible veterans confirmed that veterans who relied on the VA for his or her healthcare noticed fewer emergency division visits and hospitalizations than these utilizing private-sector care.12

Collectively, these options would make establishing common medical health insurance protection—a key objective of Medicare for All—less expensive. Though the VHA serves sufferers who’re, on common, older and sicker than the general inhabitants, it achieves higher outcomes at a decrease common per-patient value than Medicare.

A VA Fee on Care research discovered that if 60 % of VHA sufferers had been to begin looking for care within the personal sector, prices to the VA for his or her care would quadruple.13 Quite than privatizing veterans’ care, the true value financial savings for the nation lies in bringing extra sufferers underneath the care of the VHA, significantly as the general affected person inhabitants in the USA is on common youthful and more healthy than the common present VHA affected person.14

Second, sufferers would expertise higher and extra equitable outcomes from the sorts of built-in providers supplied by the VHA. The VHA’s “entire well being” mannequin begins with major care groups that embrace a doctor, a nurse serving because the care supervisor, a scientific affiliate, and an administrative clerk. Primarily based on the person wants of every veteran, and in session with them, different suppliers reminiscent of psychological well being professionals, pharmacists, and social staff could also be added to that workforce to make sure all features of the sufferers’ well being and well-being are understood, addressed, and monitored. Any such coordinated and individualized care is unavailable to most sufferers within the personal sector, regardless of the significance of care coordination in lowering misdiagnoses and enhancing affected person security and outcomes.15

A number of research present that is working in follow. A 2018 Dartmouth Faculty research in contrast efficiency between VHA hospitals and personal hospitals throughout the nation and located that in fourteen out of fifteen metrics, the VHA care fared “considerably higher” than personal hospitals.16 A 2010 systematic assessment of all research from 1990 to 2009 evaluating the standard of medical and different nonsurgical care in VA and non-VA settings discovered that research “nearly all the time demonstrated that the VA carried out higher than non-VA comparability teams” (emphasis added).17

Lastly, staff would profit from a totally public healthcare system like a VA for All. The general public sector has lengthy executed a greater job of using girls and folks of coloration than the personal sector.

Already, the VHA’s workforce is salaried and nearly completely unionized. For nonclinical employees, VHA jobs supply extra stability and higher advantages than many personal sector healthcare administration jobs, which are typically primarily based on at-will contracts. And scientific employees can concentrate on affected person care, since they don’t have to construct a follow, recruit sufferers, or invoice a number of insurers. Analysis and coaching alternatives abound for workers contained in the VHA. As a result of the establishment performs such a big function in coaching the U.S. healthcare workforce, it has express profession ladders; and, because it engages in vital quantities of in-house analysis, scientific employees also can simply interact in ongoing analysis and each additional their very own careers and their scientific discipline.


Towards a VA for All

At the moment, round 9 hundred hospitals throughout each state outdoors the VA system are on the verge of shutting down as a result of monetary losses.18 Even earlier than the pandemic, the USA had fewer hospital beds per one thousand residents than many different high-income international locations.19 If cash-strapped hospitals haven’t any incentive to remain open, the place do the sufferers search care? The place do the roles go? And the way is the broader native and regional financial system anticipated to get well? Some will undoubtedly be bought by massive well being methods, consolidating their financial and political energy. However many will shut—leaving essential gaps in entry to care.

We may empower the VHA to amass and administer many of those hospitals. These acquisitions wouldn’t solely be sure that communities can entry reasonably priced, high-quality healthcare but additionally assist to protect local people economies.

The VHA is also tasked to work with Federally Certified Well being Facilities (FQHCs), which offer complete major care to low-income and medically underserved populations and obtain help from throughout the political spectrum. Each may very well be scaled in a public–public partnership to realize entry to high quality major, secondary, and tertiary healthcare providers for all, no matter revenue or geography.

Like VHA sufferers, the FQHC sufferers expertise extra persistent well being situations than the general U.S. inhabitants. But the well being outcomes of FQHCs rival these of the personal sector.20 Quite a few research counsel that FQHCs are related to decrease complete per-patient prices to Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to financial advantages to the native communities during which they function, via job creation and buying.21 Furthermore, major care is related to extra equitable well being outcomes than specialty care.22 Thus, increasing the community of FQHCs and linking them to different public healthcare infrastructure like that supplied by the VHA may each advance well being fairness objectives and contribute to total well being system financial savings.

Moreover, FQHCs supply a mannequin for democratized governance of healthcare providers and responsiveness to local people wants as a result of their “shopper board” construction. By federal mandate, 51 % of every board should come from the affected person inhabitants served by the well being middle when it comes to demographics, and “of the nonpatient well being middle board members, not more than one-half might derive greater than 10% of their annual revenue from the well being care business.”23


Transformation, Not Reformation

Because the healthcare “system” of the world’s wealthiest nation is teetering, if not near collapse, the urgent want for transformative options is clear. Scaling publicly owned healthcare to serve all can be simply that—a strategy to take healthcare from a supply of personal revenue, mass struggling, and monetary wreck, and make it a public good.

Leveraging healthcare investments to really enhance the well being and well-being of our folks, our communities, and our financial system is eminently doable. The fashions for learn how to do it exist already. Constructing on the successes of the VHA and FQHCs presents a path to delivering higher healthcare at decrease value, with higher stability for our healthcare workforce.


As sufferers and healthcare staff know, generally the physique can heal itself—however provided that vitamins it takes in are feeding the physique’s important organs somewhat than a most cancers or pernicious micro organism. Typically a tumor have to be excised—and tissue have to be irradiated—to cease a malignant development. However with the right help and care, a physique can rework itself, develop new habits and talents, and return to a state of well being and well-being.

Likewise, the U.S. healthcare system wants main surgical procedure earlier than it could actually heal. The malignancy of revenue looking for have to be reduce out, in order that life-giving sources might stream the place they’re most wanted. Solely then can the dream of healthcare as a human proper be actually realized.



  1. Dan Keating, Akilah Johnson, and Monica Ulmanu, “The pandemic marks one other grim milestone: 1 in 500 People have died of covid-19,” Washington Put up, September 15, 2021, being/interactive/2021/1-in-500-covid-deaths/. (This statistic, sadly, is already old-fashioned.)
  2. Vishal Khetpal, “Simply Say It: The Well being Care System Has Collapsed,” Slate, September 7, 2021, com/know-how/2021 /09/healthcare-system-collapse-icu-ration-beds.html.
  3. Roosa Tikkanen and Melinda Okay. Abrams, “U.S. Well being Care from a International Perspective, 2019: Greater Spending, Worse Outcomes?,” The Commonwealth Fund, January 30, 2020,
  4. Veterans Well being Administration, “VA Fourth Mission Abstract,” accessed October 5, 2021, being/coronavirus/statesupport.asp.
  5. “An Inside Have a look at the VA’s COVID-19 Response,” Veterans Healthcare Coverage Institute Weblog, January 12, 2021, veterans
  6. See UK Parliament, “1942 Beveridge Report,”, accessed October 5, 2021; and Matthew Smith, “The NHS is the British establishment that Brits are second-most happy with—after the fireplace brigade,” YouGov, July 4, 2018,
  7. No nationwide healthcare sector on the earth is at the moment 100% Beveridge-style, in that some personal suppliers or supplementary insurance coverage protection is allowed alongside the great protection and therapy provided via the general public sector. The Cuban healthcare system comes very near being 100% public, nonetheless, with solely a handful of personal practitioners remaining on the island. In most Beveridge-style methods, there are some restricted personal choices obtainable, however they don’t are likely to account for a big portion of complete healthcare use.
  8. German Lopez, “The VA scandal of 2014, defined,” Vox, Might 13, 2015,; Charles Ornstein, “Agent Orange Act Was Imagined to Assist Vietnam Veterans—However Many Nonetheless Don’t Qualify,” ProPublica, July 17, 2015,; and “‘The Administration is Setting Us As much as Fail,’ says VA Staff Union,” AFGE, February 20, 2019,
  9. Lei-Nikki Bowser and Donna L. Washington, Entry to Care Amongst Rural Veterans (Washington, DC: Workplace of Well being Fairness, Veterans Well being Administration, S. Division of Veterans Affairs, March 10, 2020); and Karli Kondo et al., “Well being Disparities in Veterans: A Map of the Proof,” Medical Care 55, no. S2 (September 2017): S9–S15.
  10. “‘The Administration is Setting Us As much as Fail’”; and Meagan Day, “The Assault on Veterans’ Well being Care: An Interview with Suzanne Gordon,” Jacobin, June 11, 2018, com/2018/06/veterans-administration-health-care-privatization.
  11. William B. Weeks and Alan N. West, “Veterans Well being Administration Hospitals Outperform Non–Veterans Well being Administration Hospitals in Most Well being Care Markets,” Annals of Inner Medication 170, no. 6 (March 19, 2019): 426–28; Rebecca Anhang Worth et al., “Evaluating High quality of Care in Veterans Affairs and Non-Veterans Affairs Settings,” Journal of Basic Inner Medication 33, no. 10 (October 2018); and Amal N. Trivedi et al., “Systematic Evaluate: Comparability of the High quality of Medical Care in Veterans Affairs and Non-Veterans Affairs Settings,” Medical Care 49, no. 1 (January 2011): 76–88.
  12. Ashok Reddy et , “Affiliation between Continuity and Crew-Primarily based Care and Well being Care Utilization: An Observational Research of Medicare-Eligible Veterans in VA Affected person Aligned Care Crew,” Well being Providers Analysis 53, no. S3 (December 2018): 5201–18.
  13. Suzanne Gordon, Wounds of Warfare: How the VA Delivers Well being, Therapeutic, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans (Ithaca, NY: Cornell College Press, 2018), 383.
  14. The VHA affected person inhabitants is older and sicker than the general U.S. inhabitants. Typically, being older and sicker makes yet one more expensive to care So, the maths means that if the VHA is already caring for an “costly” affected person inhabitants, and doing it at comparatively low value in comparison with the personal sector (its being extra environment friendly and efficient with its investments), bringing extra sufferers into the system can be cost-saving on common. Thus, if extra of the U.S. inhabitants will get its healthcare from the VHA, complete well being expenditure for the nation ought to lower.
  15. Company for Healthcare Analysis and High quality, “Care Coordination,”, accessed October 5, 2021.
  16. Weeks and West, “Veterans Well being Administration Hospitals Outperform Non–Veterans Well being Administration Hospitals in Most Well being Care ”
  17. Trivedi et , “Systematic Evaluate.”
  18. Ayla Ellison, “State-by-State breakdown of 897 hospitals vulnerable to closing,” Becker’s Hospital CFO Report, January 22, 2021,
  19. Peterson-KFF Well being System Tracker, “Hospital Sources,” accessed October 5, 2021, quality/hospital-resources.
  20. Elayne J. Heisler, Federal Well being Facilities: An Overview, Congressional Analysis Service (7-5700/R43937), Might 19, 2017.
  21. “Well being Facilities Present Price Efficient Care,” Nationwide Affiliation of Group Well being Facilities, Truth Sheet #0815, July 2015,
  22. Barbara Starfield, Leiyu Shi, and James Macinko, “Contribution of Main Care to Well being Techniques and Well being,” Milbank Quarterly 83, 3 (September 2005): 457–502.
  23. Well being Sources and Providers Administration, Well being Middle Program Compliance Handbook, “Chapter 20: Board Composition,”, accessed October 5, 2021.


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