The Veterans Affairs (VA) health system has been criticized for being inefficient based on comparisons of VA care with non-VA care. Whether such comparisons are biased by differences between the VA patient population and the non-VA patient population is not known. Our objective is to determine if VA patients are different from non-VA patients in terms of health status and medical resource use.
We analyzed 128,099 records from the National Health Interview Survey for the years 1993 and 1994. We compared the VA patient population with the general patient population for self report on health status, number of medical conditions, number of outpatient physician visits, number of hospital admissions, and number of hospital days each year.
The VA patient population had poorer health status (odds ratio [OR], 14.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 10.7-20.2), more medical conditions (OR, 14; 95% CI, 10.5-18.7), and higher medical resource use compared with the general patient population (OR, 3.7 for 3 or more physician visits per year; OR 5.4 for 3 or more hospital admissions per year; OR, 7.7 for 21 or more days spent in a hospital per year). However, after controlling for health and sociodemographic differences, VA patients had similar resource use compared with the general patient population.
Large differences in sociodemographic status, health status, and subsequent resource use exist between the VA and the general patient population. Therefore, comparisons of VA care with non-VA care need to take these differences into account. Furthermore, health care planning and resource allocation within the VA should not be based on data extrapolated from non-VA patient populations.