Yesterday, I spent a day at the VA Hospital in Seattle trying to sort out my health care benefits. If you have never been to a VA Hospital it is an depressing experience to say the least, it is filled with old men who move as slow as the lines, inpatient-frustrated and borderline rude young men, as well an abundance of homeless. The hospital’s administration is a bureaucratic nightmare that has previously proved to be exercise in futility I usually choose to avoid. However, due to a recent change in my medications and the exuberant cost of this medication I returned to the VA attempting once again to get Uncle Sam to pick up the tab for medications that treat impairments received while in the service.
After taking an hour to find a parking spot I wandered the Hospital looking for the right line to wait in, ant there were a lot of them. I waited on two before finding the right one. After explaining my predicament to the receptionist, who had a wonderful talent for customer service despite the array of rude veterans I witnessed her charm into submission before me, she gave me a form to fill out and directions to the next line to wait in. I quickly realized that this form was the same application I had filled out at least twice before once online and once in person. After turning in the form and copies of my paperwork I was told to wait for an hour (that was more like two). I was called back to an office where my benefits were explained to me. I asked when I could see a doctor to get a prescription, something I already had from my private doctor. I was given directions to another line to wait in and given more forms. Another hour passed I was told that the clinic is booked up for the next few months but I was put on a waiting list and will receive a letter in the mail telling me when my appointment will be. So I gladly left the hospital, one step closer to free medication one step further disillusioned with public institutions.
Ok, I told you that story to tell you this one. Today is Veteran’s day and everywhere there are private institutions that are giving away free swag or offering discount prices to those who proudly served their nation. Open up any newspaper and see advertisements for veteran’s day sales specials and other promotions. One of the more generous companies is Applebee’s, which offers a free meal to veterans. Today I took my family there to eat, not because I am cheap, although I am, but for a lesson in private versus public enterprises and their ability to allocate scarce resources that have alternative uses.
When my family arrived at Applebees we talked to the hostess who explained they were busy but would get us a seat quickly, which turned to be true. It was clear judging by the large crowd that the Veterans day promotion was paying off for the restaurant in spades. Despite this surplus of customers, my family was seated, orders were taken, drinks provided and food arrived hot and on time. Now Applebee’s generosity to Veterans aside, the purpose of the promotion is to draw in the paying customers that accompany the veterans and make a profit of the mass influx of customers. Therefore any delay in the seating of customers, the ordering of food or service is detrimental to the restaurants bottom line as well as the wait staffs gratuity.
Sometimes the term profit motivation gets a bad rap and is too often found to be synonymous with the pejorative term “greed”. But what I am attempting to draw attention to is that profit motivation in the private sector provides naturally for the most efficient use of scarce resources that have alternative uses. Such as, managers of Applebee’s knowing the Veteran’s Day promotion would draw a bigger crowd might increase the waitstaff and order more supplies. Where as in the VA Hospital( a public institution) even on a normal day runs less efficiently simply because there is a miss allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses. I have never had to wait more than a day or two to see my private doctor, let alone wait months to schedule an appointment. This is the reason that Canadians, who have social health care, often cross our borders to obtain private medical treatment. Well it may seem that the price is right for social programs the cost comes in the bureaucracy, long waiting lists, and miss-allocation of resources.