Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pennies Make Dollars

Sometimes I despair at the stupidity of government bureaucrats. Other times I get cynical and realize that those same bureaucrats aren't stupid, just lazy or, even worse, in the business of making private contractors happy. I'm not sure which of the emotions got twanged the hardest by this story.

Her name is Nancy Fichtner. Normally she works at the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo.

But today Fichtner was at the White House with her children, receiving an award from President Obama.

This being the federal government, the award has a cute acronym: the SAVE (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Award. The idea started earlier this year when Obama asked federal employees for their cost-saving ideas. Some 38,000 proposals came in, most passed along to their agencies for implementation. Officials winnowed the best down to the final four and put them to an online vote that attracted almost 85,000 votes. The three runner-ups: make Social Security appointments online; stop double-inspecting HUD housing; direct deposit of National Forest fees.

And the winner was ... Fichtner, who noticed that the VA hospitals were discarding medicine before sending patients home. Her elegantly simple but potentially financial windfall of an idea: let veterans keep their remaining meds on being discharged instead of charging the VA to fill new prescriptions.
[Emphasis added]

Here's the deal: a patient at a VA hospital is given medicine to take during his stay, say an inhaler. The vet doesn't use up the entire lot before being released and because it's been started by the patient, the hospital just chucks the remainder. Then the vet, who still needs the medication, goes to the pharmacy and gets a prescription filled for the same med and the VA pays for it. How dumb is that?

Well, maybe not so dumb from the standpoint of the manufacturer of the drug, who probably is quite unhappy at the change being implemented thanks to Ms. Fichter, but that's another story, one we've seen play out over the past decade.

So, this one simple idea should save the Veteran's Administration (and us taxpayers) a tidy sum. As one congresscritter wisely noted years ago, "A billion here, a billion there: pretty soon you're talking real money."

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