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.