Ethan: I have to say, even a seasoned pol like me is disgusted by the brazen attempts of the Paul LePage and Eliot Cutler gubernatorial campaigns to make political hay against Mike Michaud in regard to the Department of Veterans Affairs controversy. Even the Republican chair of the committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, has said this issue “should not be a political football.”

Phil: Michaud has used his influence to garner veteran votes for years. And now you exclaim it’s political haymaking to ask him why 1,700 veterans were on a phantom waiting list, never receiving a lick of care? And this appears to just be the tip of the iceberg. What you describe as “brazen,” can also be labeled as “what-the-heck-are-members-of-congress-doing?”

Ethan: Please. Michaud has championed veterans from the beginning of his congressional tenure. His name is on over 100 veteran bills that are now law and he has voted time and again for subpoenas to get to the bottom of these issues. On Thursday he called for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs (Shinseki resigned the next day.) Maine has rarely had a member focus so laser-like on those who serve us.

Phil: The fact is politicians, including Mike Michaud, love to wrap themselves around our servicemen and women. Yet when it comes time to truly support our troops, too often Washington has left them on the health care battlefield fending for themselves.

Ethan: Agreed. But the ultimate responsibility for that is the White House. Michaud understands this. In fact, just that last week, he had the courage to call out our commander in chief, a member of his own party, to resolve the issue through executive authority.

Phil: Michaud is the ranking member on the committee that oversees the VA and subsequently, he must bear some of the responsibility for the lack of oversight. I will grant you, it is certainly less than the president and probably less than the Republican chair (you see, I too can call out my own), but some nonetheless.


Ethan: A stretch.

Phil: This whole controversy has got me thinking about health care in general.

Ethan: Uh, oh …

Phil: You have been a strong advocate for Obamacare and increased government involvement in providing health care. Does what you see with the VA give you any pause? The VA is entirely run by the federal government, with all the doctors, nurses and administrators being public employees. And yet for decades upon decades it has failed our soldiers.

Ethan: What? The VA offers some of the best care in the country. A RAND Corp. study determined that in areas of treatment, diagnosis, and follow-up the VA substantially exceeds what other providers administer.

Phil: Perhaps for those who get in the door. But not for the thousands who are on waiting lists. And then local administrators cover the lists up in hopes of getting incentives for “efficient” care.


Ethan: That’s not a failure of government control. That’s a failure of funding and oversight.

Phil: But those are always the failures when you hold something too tightly in government control. There is never enough money, and bureaucracies bog you down. The private sector weeds these problems out through survival of the fittest; also known as competition.

Ethan: First of all, access to health care should not be based on Darwin (although I am glad that you are not an evolution denier). Second, the Darwinian system you desire is what most of America accessed prior to Obamacare. Long delays, skyrocketing costs, and 40 million uninsured.

Phil: Grasshopper, you have so much to learn about unleashing individuals to choose health care based upon transparent pricing and customer service. Veterans especially deserve that choice.

Ethan: Veterans have that choice. They can use private insurance (assuming they have it) or use the VA. The reason many choose the VA is because it is cheaper and better. If your answer is to simply close the VA and give veterans an ID card from “Shifting Sand Mutual Insurance Co.,” count me out.

Phil: The VA performs some extraordinary medical outcomes, notably for our veterans who have lost limbs. It also performs services that can be accessed anywhere. I’m suggesting that the VA focus on its unique abilities, while also permitting veterans to access any facility for other medical needs.


Ethan: The federal government created the first medical facility for veterans in 1812 because our leaders knew that our vets needed something more than an insurance card – something acutely specialized to the medical conditions of veterans because of their service. I am not willing to throw that baby out with the bath water.

Phil: Just looking for some flexibility. You know, like Medicare. Have the government provide the insurance, but let people go where they choose.

Ethan: No problem. I think we should have Medicare for everyone. But we still need hospitals that fully understand the unique medical needs of vets. They deserve nothing less.

Phil: On that we can agree.

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