Mitt Romney: Maybe Veterans' Health Care Should Be Privatized

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney floated an eyebrow-raising suggestion on Veterans Day: privatize veterans' health care.

Speaking with a dozen vets in an occasionally emotional roundtable discussion in South Carolina Friday, the GOP presidential contender sympathized with the service members' difficulties obtaining treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which one vet described as "adversarial."

Romney, who has already proposed privatizing Medicare, suggested that maybe giving wounded warriors an outside option would force VA health bureaucrats to be a little more responsive.

"When you work in the private sector and you have a competitor, you know if I don't treat this customer right, they're going to leave me and go somewhere else, so I'd better treat them right," Romney said. "Whereas if you're the government, they know there's nowhere else you guys can go. You're stuck.

Sometimes you wonder if there would be some way to introduce some private-sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, that each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them, and then they can choose whether they want to go in the government system or in a private system with the money that follows them," said Romney. "Like what happens with schools in Florida, where people have a voucher that goes with them. Who knows?"

Though Romney was equivocal about the idea, the Democrat-aligned Protect Your Care was quick to pounce on the suggestion, which could have the effect of diverting cash from the VA.

"It is well-known that Romney wants to take away seniors' Medicare and turn it into a privatized voucher system, but it is unfathomable that on Veterans Day he would even hint at privatizing their VA health care," said Protect Your Care spokesman Eddie Vale. "Although I guess that is the kind of thing they should expect from someone who in the past said his sons also served their country by campaigning for him."

Vale was referring to remarks Romney made in the 2008 campaign, when he defended his five sons' decisions not to enlist in the military by saying they were serving their country by helping to get him elected.

The idea of health care vouchers didn't impress one Marine veteran in the discussion, according to Talking Points Memo.

Auston Thompson, a veteran of the Iraq War and former Marine, told TPM after the session that though the idea of the plan was sound to his fiscally conservative ear, the implementation would likely lead to problems.

"Eventually it would become too much of a nuisance," Thompson said. He doubted a voucher system would cover the benefits like the existing VA system does. "Private health care is already so expensive, you'd need some kind of health care reform to make it work."