The coverage lawmakers give themselves

THE COVERAGE LAWMAKERS GIVE THEMSELVES…. At his White House press conference a couple of weeks ago, President Obama said, “I have great health insurance and so does every member of Congress.” It was a reminder that we hear quite a bit about the kind of coverage “lawmakers give themselves.”

But what, exactly, do lawmakers have in the way of insurance? The LA Times took a closer look at the taxpayer-subsidized coverage members of Congress have.

Among the advantages: a choice of 10 healthcare plans that provide access to a national network of doctors, as well as several HMOs that serve each member’s home state. By contrast, 85% of private companies offering health coverage provide their employees one type of plan — take it or leave it.

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.

In all, taxpayers spent about $15 billion last year to insure 8.5 million federal workers and their dependents, including postal service employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Generous plans are available in private industry. But the federal coverage far surpasses that enjoyed by 70 million Americans who are underinsured and at financial risk in the event of a major health crisis — not to mention the estimated 46 million who have no medical insurance.

Most federal workers go with a plan that costs about $1,030 a month, with taxpayers paying about $700 of the total. Employees pay $20 for a doctor’s visit, and $10 for generic prescriptions, and there is no coverage limit. To make this kind of plan available to the whole country would cost exorbitant sums, without major cost-cutting reforms.

Rep. Steve Kagen, a Wisconsin Democrat who worked as a Green Bay-area physician for decades, is the only member of Congress who refuses to accept federal healthcare benefits, insisting that it’s not fair for lawmakers to have a better option that his constituents. Instead, he goes without.

“If every member of Congress put their heads on their pillow every night like I do … knowing this could be the night I lose my house, we’d fix healthcare in a week,” said Kagen.