Opportunity Costs with VA Privatization

Lexi Zaugg-Honorbound

As a child with two parents who previously served in the United States Air Force, I want to be sure that, in the future, they will receive adequate care when sick or hurt and visiting a hospital run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the “VA”. A barrier to this potential reality would be the push towards privatization by politicians and other special interest groups. Privatizing is when a public institution or organization is removed from the public sector, which is run by government agencies, and placed into the private sector[1]. By privatizing the VA, veterans would lose the fraternity found when interacting with other veterans, specially trained physicians or programs run by actual veterans, and increased access to care because of certain doctors not accepting government pay due to low reimbursement rates[2]. In Naked Economics, author Charles Wheelan states that “life is about trade-offs, and so is economics[3],” undoubtedly referring to opportunity cost. So, what would be the opportunity cost, of privatizing the VA? What would one choose in this situation where the opportunity cost greatly influences numerous lives, and the choice is painfully obvious?

The VA system is “the only nationwide fully integrated health care system in the United States[4].” For example, a patient could be admitted into the hospital and need to see a cardiologist, optometrist, and a dentist; the patient could visit all these doctors and more at one site. Also, patients moving states can receive uninterrupted care, including access to his or her medical records, a privilege otherwise lost when dealing with the “fragmented private sector health care system[5].”

When working at the VA, doctors, nurses, and physicians receive special training and skills that assist them in performing their jobs[6]. Civilian doctors may not have the skills to deal with the heath needs of military veterans. Without the integrated health care system, veterans also miss out on the personal aspect of visiting a VA hospital. There are veterans who remain at the VA for an extended amount of time. As some veterans have family that never visits them, or no family at all, the personal relationships they make are critical in their spiritual healing process. Without the system, these relationships would never be given the chance to flourish.

Another problem with privatizing the VA is that, when in the private sector, physicians can choose to accept a single type of insurance, and deny government plans, preventing access to care[7]. This is mostly due to low reimbursement rates. According to opponents of privatization, “this country made a promise to care for our veterans when they return home, and we won’t let big business break it[8].”


[1] Wigmore, Ivy. “What Is Privatization? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com. August 2013. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/privatization.

[2] Marans, Daniel. “Why Veterans Groups Are Worried about the Privatization of the VA.” Huffingtonpost.com. November 11, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/veterans-groups-worried-about-va-privatization_us_5643dcaee4b045bf3dedc2b4.

[3] Wheelan, Charles J. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: Norton, 2002. 10.

[4] Gordon, Suzanne. “Why Privatizing the VA Health Care System Is a Bad Idea.” Bostonglobe.com. February 17, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/02/17/why-privatizing-health-care-system-bad-idea/2PyB5Dz36pdahjwVFr3p3M/story.html.BG

[5] Ibid.

[6] Marans, “Why Veteran Groups Are Worried.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Milwaukee VA Employees Protest Closing Hospitals.” AFGE. October 7, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016. https://www.afge.org/article/milwaukee-veterans-va-employees-protest-closing-of-va-hospitals/.



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