Healthcare as a Public Service: Redesigning U.S. Healthcare with Health and Equity at the Center – Non Profit News


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

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

What may healthcare appear to be if the revenue motive have been faraway from the supply of care altogether? If healthcare have been designed as a public service, what prospects would exist for well being fairness, well being system resilience, and lowered 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 must be employed to maximise the well being and well-being of our folks and financial system.

There are, sadly, few vibrant spots in a system that has allowed a couple of in 5 hundred Individuals to die because of COVID-19.1 Many readers could also be stunned to be taught that one of many few highlights in healthcare efficiency throughout 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 lots 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 might show to be a vital establishment to reaching well being justice.

Whereas the brand new is usually fetishized, typically the simplest and possible fashions should 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 might assist jump-start a revival of this mannequin right now.


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 workers, reduce their hours, or lowered pay, whilst demand for emergency care because 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

Arduous although it might be to consider, right now healthcare consumes virtually one fifth of the complete U.S. financial system. That is excess of most different superior economies, whilst 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 assets.

The VHA’s pandemic expertise gives some priceless classes. When COVID-19 hit, the VHA, relatively than contracting, expanded to satisfy wants. It opened its doorways to simply accept a whole lot of nonveteran sufferers and despatched workers to help in non-VA hospitals and nursing houses. By September 2021, it had supplied almost 1,000,000 items of non-public protecting tools to non-VA amenities 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 amenities, 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 strain on overtaxed ICUs. VA-run nursing houses fared so effectively that the VA was requested to take over some state-level Veterans Properties from the non-public, 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 train 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 develop 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 Reasonably than in search of to maximise revenue and allocate assets primarily based on skill 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 occasions of extreme underfunding and privatization makes an attempt, their reputation with each sufferers and healthcare staff has usually endured over time. Even Brexiteers acknowledged the efficiency of the U.Ok.’s Nationwide Well being Service (NHS) as a totemic expression of British values once 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 aspect of their marketing campaign bus.

There are likewise legitimate criticisms of the VHA. It has actually not at all times been managed in one of the best curiosity of its sufferers or workers.8 Persisting geographic variations within the availability and accessibility of a few of its providers drawback some teams of veterans over others.9 Persistent underfunding coupled with growing calls for by Congress and the chief department have contributed to vital staffing shortages and unmet objectives to modernize its infrastructure.10 However regardless of these challenges, the VHA has delivered spectacular enhancements in current a long time and—most necessary—well being outcomes persistently equal to or higher than these within the non-public 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 in search of, the VHA can create house for different imperatives—for instance, centering sufferers’ wants, coaching and retaining a extremely expert and efficient healthcare workforce, and advancing the science of drugs. Additionally, as a single built-in system, the VHA can handle its shared property throughout a number of websites and transfer each workers and provides from one geographic location to a different extra simply than private-sector opponents. This skill to steward assets for the collective good is especially helpful in occasions of emergency or surprising pressure—reminiscent of a provide chain failure—on the healthcare sector.


Public Healthcare, American-Fashion

Constructing a Beveridge-style well being system for all primarily based on the VHA—a form of “VA for all”—would rework the economics of U.S. healthcare by eradicating extractive revenue in search of 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 trade, 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 might a “VA for all”–model system profit payers, suppliers, and sufferers alike?

First, scaling the VHA would enhance the effectivity of healthcare spending by way of strictly evidence-based care, lowered 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 examine 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 purpose 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 examine discovered that if 60 % of VHA sufferers have been to begin in search of care within the non-public sector, prices to the VA for his or her care would quadruple.13 Reasonably than privatizing veterans’ care, the actual value financial savings for the nation lies in bringing extra sufferers below the care of the VHA, notably 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. Based mostly 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 points of the sufferers’ well being and well-being are understood, addressed, and monitored. This sort of coordinated and individualized care is unavailable to most sufferers within the non-public sector, regardless of the significance of care coordination in decreasing misdiagnoses and bettering affected person security and outcomes.15

A number of research present that is working in apply. A 2018 Dartmouth Faculty examine 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 non-public 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 “virtually at all times demonstrated that the VA carried out higher than non-VA comparability teams” (emphasis added).17

Lastly, staff would profit from a completely public healthcare system like a VA for All. The general public sector has lengthy finished a greater job of using ladies and other people of colour than the non-public sector.

Already, the VHA’s workforce is salaried and virtually totally unionized. For nonclinical workers, VHA jobs supply extra stability and higher advantages than many non-public sector healthcare administration jobs, which are usually primarily based on at-will contracts. And scientific workers can give attention to affected person care, since they don’t have to construct a apply, 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 position in coaching the U.S. healthcare workforce, it has specific profession ladders; and, because it engages in important quantities of in-house analysis, scientific workers also can simply have interaction in ongoing analysis and each additional their very own careers and their scientific subject.


Towards a VA for All

At the moment, round 9 hundred hospitals throughout each state exterior the VA system are on the verge of shutting down because 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 vital gaps in entry to care.

We might empower the VHA to accumulate and administer many of those hospitals. These acquisitions wouldn’t solely be sure that communities can entry inexpensive, 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 earnings or geography.

Like VHA sufferers, the FQHC sufferers expertise extra power well being situations than the general U.S. inhabitants. But the well being outcomes of FQHCs rival these of the non-public sector.20 Quite a few research counsel that FQHCs are related to decrease whole per-patient prices to Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to financial advantages to the native communities during which they function, by way of 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 might 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 because of their “client board” construction. By federal mandate, 51 % of every board should come from the affected person inhabitants served by the well being middle by way of demographics, and “of the nonpatient well being middle board members, not more than one-half could derive greater than 10% of their annual earnings from the well being care trade.”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 apparent. Scaling publicly owned healthcare to serve all could be simply that—a method to take healthcare from a supply of personal revenue, mass struggling, and monetary smash, and make it a public good.

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


As sufferers and healthcare staff know, typically the physique can heal itself—however provided that vitamins it takes in are feeding the physique’s important organs relatively than a most cancers or pernicious micro organism. Generally a tumor have to be excised—and tissue have to be irradiated—to cease a malignant progress. 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 possibly heal. The malignancy of revenue in search of have to be reduce out, in order that life-giving assets could circulate 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 Individuals have died of covid-19,” Washington Publish, 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 Ok. Abrams, “U.S. Well being Care from a International Perspective, 2019: Larger 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 hearth brigade,” YouGov, July 4, 2018,
  7. No nationwide healthcare sector on the planet is at present one hundred pc Beveridge-style, in that some non-public suppliers or supplementary insurance coverage protection is allowed alongside the great protection and therapy provided by way of the general public sector. The Cuban healthcare system comes very near being one hundred pc public, nonetheless, with solely a handful of personal practitioners remaining on the island. In most Beveridge-style methods, there are some restricted non-public choices obtainable, however they don’t are likely to account for a big portion of whole healthcare use.
  8. German Lopez, “The VA scandal of 2014, defined,” Vox, Could 13, 2015,; Charles Ornstein, “Agent Orange Act Was Alleged 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 Employees 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 Overview: 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 Group-Based mostly Care and Well being Care Utilization: An Observational Examine of Medicare-Eligible Veterans in VA Affected person Aligned Care Group,” 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. Usually, being older and sicker makes yet one more expensive to care So, the mathematics 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 non-public sector (its being extra environment friendly and efficient with its investments), bringing extra sufferers into the system could be cost-saving on common. Thus, if extra of the U.S. inhabitants will get its healthcare from the VHA, whole 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 Overview.”
  18. Ayla Ellison, “State-by-State breakdown of 897 hospitals susceptible 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), Could 19, 2017.
  21. “Well being Facilities Present Price Efficient Care,” Nationwide Affiliation of Neighborhood Well being Facilities, Reality Sheet #0815, July 2015,
  22. Barbara Starfield, Leiyu Shi, and James Macinko, “Contribution of Main Care to Well being Methods and Well being,” Milbank Quarterly 83, 3 (September 2005): 457–502.
  23. Well being Sources and Providers Administration, Well being Heart Program Compliance Handbook, “Chapter 20: Board Composition,”, accessed October 5, 2021.



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