VA: High-Quality Health Care At Low Cost

wyatt andrews
wyatt andrews

Eighty-eight-year-old George Sack can go anywhere he wants for health care, but he chooses to go to the VA, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports. That's right, the Veterans Administration.

If his choice surprises you, it doesn't surprise health care experts. In studies, including one by Harvard, and in six straight years of patient satisfaction surveys, the VA earned the highest health care quality rating in the country. It's also the least expensive.

It's a remarkable turnaround from the old VA, the uncaring place once derided in movies like "Born on the Fourth of July."

Today's VA looks like the future. It has thrown out the medical paperwork and put everything about its patients in the computer.

During Sack's exam, his medications, his diabetes and blood tests are all electronic records. In the radiology lab, there's no more x-ray film. Futuristic 3-D scans of patients are simply entered electronically. Sack can go to any VA clinic in the country and a computer will tell his doctor everything — from when his shots are due to when he hasn't taken his medicine.

"This computer keeps me honest," Sack says.

The VA is also a bargain for taxpayers, and not just because of the computers. Doctors are salaried employees, which saves on labor. Drugs are cheaper because of negotiated discounts. Even with its older population, VA care overall costs 30 percent less than the national average.

Dr. Ken Kizer, the former VA official who spearheaded the turnaround, says the rest of the health care system should be taking notes.

"What was done there works. Much of it is transferable to the private sector," Kizer says.

This doesn't that mean VA care is perfect. There are often long waits to see specialists, and some veterans just back from Iraq complain of inadequate counseling for war-related stress.

"I've come to grips with the fact that the system has failed me," says Chad Best, an Iraq war veteran. "And either I put up with it, or I shut up."

Still, Sack is pleased. Sixty-two years ago, then-Sgt. Sack risked everything to storm the beach at Normandy. Today, by delivering the most high-tech medical care anywhere, his country is paying him back.