The Office of Inspector General for Health and Human services reported in 2010 that poor care and errors in private hospitals contributes to the deaths of 180,000 Medicare patients every year.

A similar study of our entire private hospital system, published late last year in the Journal of Patient Safety estimates that between 210,000 and 440,000 hospital patients suffer each year from preventable harm and errors that contribute to their deaths.

The 180,000 unnecessary annual deaths for Medicare patients exceeds the 117,000 deaths the U.S suffered in all of World War I. The high end of the overall private systems preventable annual deaths of 440,000 exceeds the 405,000 deaths suffered by the U.S in four years of World War II. It could be said that entering our private hospitals might be as dangerous as going to war.

These annual death estimates finish third only behind heart disease and cancer in the U.S. as a cause of death.

The VA gets plenty of media coverage for its flaws, but where is the coverage of the carnage in our private hospitals? Some will say the VA’s problems are proof that the government can’t run a healthcare. Where is their criticism of the corporate hospitals? Why are they allowed to continue the killing on a much larger scale?

The VA has suffered from lack of funding and congressional oversight. Our government is run by the corruption of campaign contributions. The House and Senate VA committee members don’t get many campaign contributions from Vets the way they do other committees. Memberships on the VA committees go to those with the lowest seniority. These put higher priority to the committees that they are on that generate campaign contributions. You get what you pay for. The makers of campaign contributions get plenty of funding while the VA got shortchanged for decades.

Administrators should be required to seek feedback from veterans about problems and suggestions. An independent watchdog organization should be created to collect complaints and report them to the administrators and Congress. This watchdog organization should then follow up on complaints and report back to Congress.

Veterans should be educated about their entitlements; how the VA system works and how to file complaints. With these changes and proper funding, long wait problems and more should not happen. Veterans groups should copy the NRA. They should demand this and vote like they mean it.

In my recent three years as a patient with the VA, it took a while to understand how the VA machinery works. I encountered problems. These weren’t much different than what I experienced with private healthcare. Both need improvement. I was amazed at how many old enough for Medicare still chose to use the VA. Things can’t be that bad over all if this happens.

As serious as the government run VA hospital problems are, they are dwarfed by the deadly performance of our private sector hospitals. We must oversee all hospitals, VA and private, with strong government regulations to stop unnecessary deaths and improve treatment. Our government does a good job regulating nuclear power plants and airlines so why not hospitals?

For further reading check out Scientific American on our hospitals.

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