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Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2009

THE OFFICE OF THE ATTENDING PHYSICIAN.... From time to time, we're reminded of the fact that members of Congress -- many of whom are fighting to kill health care reform -- give themselves pretty good coverage. Several weeks ago, the LA Times reported on the taxpayer-subsidized insurance federal lawmakers currently enjoy.

The piece noted that, while most Americans have to go with whatever their employer offers, members have a choice of 10 plans that offer access to a national network of doctors. "Lawmakers also get special treatment at Washington's federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers," the article added.

ABC News explores this conveniently located facility in more detail today. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal for lawmakers.

This fall while members of Congress toil in the U.S. Capitol, working to decide how or even whether to reform the country's health care system, one floor below them an elaborate Navy medical clinic -- described by those who have seen it as something akin to a modern community hospital -- will be standing by, on-call and ready to provide Congress with some of the country's best and most efficient government-run health care.

Formally called the Office of the Attending Physician, the clinic -- and at least six satellite offices -- bills its mission as one of emergency preparedness and public health. Each day, it stands ready to handle medical emergencies, biological attacks and the occasional fainting tourist visiting Capitol Hill.

Officially, the office acknowledges these types of services, including providing physicals to Capitol police officers and offering flu shots to congressional staffers. But what is rarely discussed outside the halls of Congress is the office's other role -- providing a wealth of primary care medical services to senators, representatives and Supreme Court justices.

Through interviews with former employees and members of Congress, as well as extensive document searches, ABC News has learned new details about the services offered by the Office of Attending Physician to members of Congress over the past few years, from regular visits by a consulting chiropractor to on-site physical therapy.

"A member walked in and was generally walked right back into a physician's office. They get good care. They are not rushed. They are examined thoroughly," said Eduardo Balbona, an internist in Jacksonville, Fa., who worked as a staff physician in the OAP from 1993 to 1995.

The Office of the Attending Physician includes at least four Navy doctors as well as at least a dozen medical and X-ray technicians, nurses, and a pharmacist. When a specialist is brought in, members pay no additional costs.

Indeed, lawmakers receive top-notch, wait-free care, and money is largely no object. Members pay a flat annual fee of $503, and it covers all expenses -- without submitting claim forms to their insurer. Despite soaring costs throughout the health care system, prices have been largely stagnant in the Office of the Attending Physician for 17 years.

Some lawmakers didn't pay the fee and still took advantage of OAP services.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear a member of Congress complaining about the nightmares of government-run, taxpayer-subsidized health care.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

"Lawmakers" -- that's a laugh, a real howler. The Repugnants are almost exclusively bought and paid for by the corporations. The Dim party, too, is owned by the corporations, but some of their members have bad consciences and suffer for screwing over the American people all the time, and so relent every now and then.

That they are set up like royalty to do this work is no big surprise...

(gee, i sure hope a congressional flunky, er, aide, will respond at how shrill i am)

Posted by: neill on September 30, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I read/heard this incorrectly but I believe members could afford (sigh) this extra expense because 70% of their health care is paid for by taxpayers (employer)...wanna check that out? And, still Baucus needs to be purged...

Posted by: Dancer on September 30, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

So who are the freeloaders who didn't pay their fee?

Posted by: plim on September 30, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

They endure this terrible program so we don't have to.

Posted by: Gaia on September 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Members pay a flat annual fee of $503, and it covers all expenses -- without submitting claim forms to their insurer.

This must work out nicely for the C-Streeters and their chronic VD.

Posted by: doubtful on September 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, who are the Congressional freeloaders who didn't even pay that ridiculously low premium?

Back in 1992, all kinds of hell was raised over the House Bank fiasco, and what that . Seems kind of appropriate now to get this kind of information about how ethical these guys are when it comes to their own care.

Posted by: kevmo on September 30, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Let them eat vitamins!

Posted by: Frak on September 30, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Well my god, they deserve the best. They are the most hardworking, intelligent, unselfish, morally upright individuals our country has to offer. We should be proud of their efforts to protect the rights of the less fortunate. Aren't you proud of them?!

Posted by: whichwitch on September 30, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Look at it this way: to Republicans and many corporate-owned Democrats, the idea of health care not tied to an employer is their worst nightmare. It goes beyond bending to the will of the insurance companies and the like. Many people will stick to a crappy job because of insurance coverage (I have done this myself & know I'm not the only one). Most of Congress, duly elected to represent "the people" and to provide to our "general welfare" are really just corporate pawns, albeit ones with huge egos. They do the bidding of business, not of the people. A quasi-serfdom is just the ticket. Corporations get to treat us all like crap, they get the legal protections to do so without penalty, and we have to take it because exactly what other choices do we really have?

This is not rocket science.

Posted by: zhak on September 30, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Millions who don't have health insurance pay taxes to fund health care for politicians who in turn are fighting to deny health care to others. What an upside-down country we live in.

Posted by: Red on September 30, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Members pay a flat annual fee of $503, and it covers all expenses -- without submitting claim forms to their insurer.

I assume this makes their insurance rates even lower.

The credit agencies treat these clowns with the exact same VIP service. Politicians rarely have bad credit, not because they pay their bills on time, but because the credit agencies realize there is a great benefit of not making lawmakers jump though their normal hopes.

Posted by: ScottW on September 30, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

$500 per year? Out of their own damn pocket? Obviously they feel our pain.

I recently wrote my Congressdick, John Shimkus, and asked why he didn't have private insurance if a government-run system would be so bad (his public denouncement of a public option makes the thing sound like the apocolypse). His response was that he attempted to add an amendment to the House health care bill that would offer the federal plan to all Americans, but the darned old Democrats voted it down!

He never actually answered my question.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on September 30, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sigh... In the bad, old days of commie Poland, every sizable place of employment and every school had an office of attending physician (though, in my high school, only the nurses were there all the time; the doctor was there every day, but only for a couple of hours. The primary school had a doctor on standby at all times). It was a great surprise to me to find out that in USA that's not the rule at all. Y'all have no clue just how horrible the nationalised healthcare really is :)

Posted by: exlibra on September 30, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

This little revelation should set off a fire storm of reaction. I suspect it won't. Will the Republican News Network cover it? Maybe Glenn Beck? Film at 11.

Posted by: Russell Aboard M/V Sunshine on September 30, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK


Sounds to me like these so called government officials are beginning to think they are above everyone else. They get top of the line health care without any wait all for a small fee. However, in order for them to get royal treatment at there "clinic" someone has to be paying for it and BAM that's where our taxes come in. If they are so worried about our health care system maybe they should contribute and take pay cuts off there 6 figure pay checks. Congress should at least try to solve some of our health care problems when there sitting in there chairs getting there backs cracked by there own personal chiropractors after a long day at the golf course. If they really want to help out they should allow people who cant afford healthcare use there personal doctors because that would only be fair. Bottom line is these highly intellectual white house officals need to get off there over priced leather chairs and need to start making some positive changes for our healthcare system

Posted by: keya on September 30, 2009 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

so if we cancel their benefit, as any employer can, how many of these clowns could actually find someone to insure them? Lot's of pre-existing conditions here for sure

Posted by: doc on September 30, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

This must work out nicely for the C-Streeters and their chronic VD.

Pretty sure Coburn's writing them scrips for the STDs when he has a free moment from giving their girlfriends abortions.

Hey, couldn't we put Mike K in as the Congressional physician? As long as they're bitching about the allegedly poor quality of government-run programs, they might as well find out what a seriously incompetent healthcare provider is like.

Posted by: shortstop on September 30, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Assholes. This kind of thing REALLY pisses me off.

I don't mind that they get this kind of care, but then to listen to the likes of Ensign babble on about how we get TOO much care makes me want to go postal.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on September 30, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh my God! You guys are almost there. The light bulb has a faint glow. I am not against government health care in fact I would welcome a plan that covers "ALL", "Everyone", the Pres on down. I am just against the fact that the politicians (all government workers) don't want to be covered by the very same plan that they say is so good for the rest of us. If the Dems or Rep have such a great plan to offer then let them and all other federal employees give it a test run for a couple of years. After they work out the bugs.......and they will.....then they can pass it on to the rest of us monkeys caught in the middle. If the final health plan doesn't have the Democrats and Republicans line up to get it then the plan just plain SUCKS!

Posted by: Monkey in the middle on September 30, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Re: shortstop @ 12:39
I suggest Dr. Kevorkian!

Posted by: rickles on September 30, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

If I could get complete and unlimited coverage for $500 a year --I would be forced to emigrate to some country that wasn't trying to run my life for me with all it's socialistic giving.

Maybe I could move to Waziristan and help them secede from Pakistan 'cause it's all about freedom.

Posted by: cld on September 30, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

What's really sad is that it would do no good to even vote these turkeys out of office since anyone we vote in would get the exact same benifits. Between a rock and a hard place, that is where we the people are.

Posted by: nodak on September 30, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain would say that that is neither here nor there. Cause he was tortured. Which is the opposite of health care. And that means that he doesn't have to acknowledge the fact that he has access to good care now. And one should assume that all lawmakers have been tortured, whether or not that is the case. Because. That's how it's done in McCain land. And if you don't agree then GRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! YOU MUST BE SOME LEFTY NUTJOB NOT APPRECIATING THE THINGS WHAT SOLDIERS HAVE DONE SO YOU COULD LIVE FREE!!!!

Posted by: John M on September 30, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I read a post yesterday that stated that Iraq has a "socialized" health care plan that the U.S. implemented. Is that true?

Posted by: st john on September 30, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hypocrisy in the Halls of Congress?

I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Oh, and St. John? Not only is it true, the US inserted it into the Iraqi Constitution it (the US) wrote. But then, "socialism" is good for the people we conquer, it's just NOT good for us.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on September 30, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Then perhaps those in congress that are pushing for the public option should sign a pledge saying they will be using that public option....

... Ah they won't will they. Because they know exactly how bad that public option is going to be.

Posted by: Joe on September 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

st john - This is what Mark Dorlester (Huffington Post)has to report on Iraqi health care:

You'd better sit down, folks.

Article 31 of the Iraqi Constitution, drafted by your right-wing Bushies in 2005 and ratified by the Iraqi people, includes state-guaranteed (single payer) healthcare for life for every Iraqi citizen.

Article 31 reads:

"First: Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions.

Second: Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics,or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law."

There are other health care guarantees, including special provisions for children, the elderly, and the handicapped elsewhere in the 43-page document.

Under force of arms, President Bush imposed his particular idea of democracy on a people not asking for it - perhaps a noble undertaking in one context and a criminal violation of international law in another. Bush's followers are proud of the Iraqi Constitution, a model for the world, they told us.

So, according to the American political right-wing, government-guaranteed health care is good for Iraqis, but not good for us. Not good for you. They decry even a limited public option for you, but gleefully imposed upon the Iraqis what they label here as "socialism," with much Democratic Party member support.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-dorlester/guaranteed-health-care-in_b_280528.html

Posted by: whichwitch on September 30, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

Posted by: 2Manchu on September 30, 2009 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

whichwitch, @ 15:22,

That bit about socialised healthcare that we wrote into their Constitution? See, next time we invade them for their oil, we'll have a ready-made excuse: we'll free them from the bonds of socialism. Can't count on there always being a tyrant ready to topple, you know...

Posted by: exlibra on September 30, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Why isn't this publicized more? It says it all - our rulers get the best care possible, and we pay for it. While we suffer and some of us die, or go broke. It's medieval.

Disgusting. Just disgusting.

Posted by: nyc on October 1, 2009 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

Lawmakers? Let's start calling them what they really are - Prostiticians - submitted for entry into Webster's new word category. Defined as those Democrats and Republicans who oppose the public option while utilizing the services of this taxpayer funded clinic and at the same time accept donations from insurance and pharmaceutical companies. (Post Sen. Baucus and Orin Hatch's pictures here for illustration purposes)

Posted by: Jim on October 1, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

I knew they were hypocritical about "government-run healthcare," but was only vaguely aware of how hypocritical.

What really disturbs me, though, isn't in the story. It's the second comment (above). Why, Lord, oh WHY, did Dancer feel it necessary to put that mental image into my head?

"And, still Baucus needs to be purged..."

Ick. Now I have to go wash out my brain...

Posted by: Nameless Cynic on October 2, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds to me like these so called government officials are beginning to think they are above everyone else. They get top of the line health care without any wait all for a small fee. However, in order for them to get royal treatment at there "clinic" someone has to be paying for it and BAM that's where our taxes come in. If they are so worried about our health care system maybe they should contribute and take pay cuts off there 6 figure pay checks. Congress should at least try to solve some of our health care problems when there sitting in there chairs getting there backs cracked by there own personal chiropractors after a long day at the golf course. If they really want to help out they should allow people who can’t afford healthcare use there personal doctors because that would only be fair. We have spoiled our government and allow them to get away with many things, and it needs to stop. These people are not king, they are government officials. Bottom line is these highly intellectual white house officials need to get off there over priced leather chairs and need to start making some positive changes for our healthcare system

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Posted by: Janet on March 8, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK
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