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Congressmen Enjoy Secret On-Site Clinic

Some actual reportage from ABC News:

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) (3rd L), with his dog, a Bichon Frise named Dakota, watch as staff members from the Office of the Attending Physician run to a medical emergency in the halls of U.S. Captiol April 27, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Special Health Care for Congress: Lawmakers’ Health Care Perks

Little Known Office on Capitol Hill Provides Quality Medical Care for Low Price

By JAY SHAYLOR and MARK ABDELMALEK

Sept. 30, 2009—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.

"You have time to spend to get to know your patients and think about them and really think about how you preserve their health going forward," Balbona said. "We’re not there to put on Band-Aids. We were there to make sure that everything possible that could be done [is done] to preserve that member of Congress."

Office of the Attending Physician Services

Services offered by the Office of the Attending Physician include physicals and routine examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists from military hospitals and private medical practices. According to congressional budget records, the office is staffed by at least four Navy doctors as well as at least a dozen medical and X-ray technicians, nurses and a pharmacist.

Sources said when specialists are needed, they are brought to the Capitol, often at no charge to members of Congress.

"If you had, for example, prostate cancer, you would go to one of the centers of excellence for the country, which would be Johns Hopkins. If you had coronary artery disease, we would engage specialists at the Cleveland Clinic. You would go to the best care in the country. And, for the most part, nobody asked what your insurance was," Balbona said.

In addition to Balbona, several former staff members and private physicians who have consulted at the OAP as recently as last year agreed to talk to ABC News on background. They described a culture centered on meeting the needs and whims of members of Congress, with almost no concern for cost.

Members of Congress do not pay for the individual services they receive at the OAP, nor do they submit claims through their federal employee health insurance policies. Instead, members pay a flat, annual fee of $503 for all the care they receive. The rest of the cost of their care, sources said, is subsidized by taxpayers.

Last year, Congress appropriated more than $3 million to reimburse the Navy for staff salaries at the office. Sources said additional money to operate the office is included in the Navy’s annual budget.

In 2008, 240 members paid the annual fee, though some sources say congressmen who didn’t pay the fee were rarely prevented from using OAP services.

Office of the Attending Physician Would Not Comment

The OAP refused to comment in detail for this story, and Rear Adm. Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress, did not return phone calls requesting an interview. When ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson visited the office in person in September to speak with Monahan, he was asked to leave.

After Johnson’s visit, Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the House Committee on Administration, which partially oversees the OAP, called ABC News and agreed to answer some general questions via e-mail. He refused to discuss the number of staff members who work at the OAP or the type of facilities the OAP makes available to members of Congress.

Requests by ABC News to tour the facility were also denied due to "security sensitivities."

Anderson said members of Congress are treated by specialists from military hospitals who visit the OAP at no charge. Congressmen are also eligible for free out-patient care at military facilities in the Washington, D.C., area, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

However, Anderson said, "individual health insurance is required for members to see local health professionals." …

The Office of the Attending Physician refused to comment on the fee or why it has not changed significantly in 17 years, despite rampant inflation in all other areas of health care costs.

Anderson refused repeated requests for the Committee on House Administration to provide details of how the rate is determined or who determines it. "Members pay an annual fee determined by an independent actuary for use of the OAP services," Anderson responded each time he was asked about the pricing model.

Gee, our federal government sounds more and more like the Kremlin every day.

Why is that?

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, September 30th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

11 Responses to “Congressmen Enjoy Secret On-Site Clinic”

  1. caligirl9 says:

    “Meeting the needs and the whims of members of Congress with almost no concern for costs?”

    Hmmm wasn’t there a little article posted yesterday about how sometimes “less medical care is more?”

    Another prime example of “Do as I say, not as I do.” And this Cadillac health care isn’t something that has just popped up in the last nine months. When was this put into place and at whose order? (Please not Reagan please not Reagan!)

    As I read this article, these people are fully double-covered. So they can see the OAP doc and if they don’t like what he or she has to say, go to the doctor paid for by their federal employee health coverage. Neither knows what the other is doing or has already done.

    Nice.

    There is no reason something like this couldn’t and shouldn’t be staffed by paramedics, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. There are hospitals all over the place—stabilize someone who has fainted and send ‘em to the hospital. Give the congressperson with strep throat some antibiotics and send ‘em back to work.

    If the Navy wants to give our free care, take it to the streets.

    Another prime example of longstanding government waste and hypocrisy.

    • preparing4theworst says:

      I beg to differ (but only slightly) about possible staffing. They couldn’t use Paramedics because the good ones prefer to be out on the street. If by chance they did use medics they would be either told that “we can’t treat oral clap/verbal diarrhea” or if I thought I could get away with it I would start a large bore IV wide open, and park them in a cold room to wait on the doctor to come from wherever. Then I would tell the doctor that this looked pretty minor and could wait until whatever worse cases we had were evaluated and treated….meanwhile we have this person sitting in a cold room (in a gown of course) with a filling bladder…….signed Western Street Medic/16 year veteran caregiver

  2. proreason says:

    And you sneer when I say they live like princes.

    Their paltry 180,000+ salaries don’t scratch the surface of their compensation. Their pensions alone are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    And then, there is the income from illegal activities.

    You couldn’t put a price on it.

    Fortunately for us, they work up to 4 days a week, with only a couple of month long vacations a year, with the occasional quarterly junket to hot spots in the world like Paris and Rome.

    But really, how many of us plebes would be capable of voting the right way on bills we haven’t read, and don’t know the contents, and can’t explain.

    They certainly deserve their princely benefits.

    • MinnesotaRush says:

      Pro .. there’s so many things I enjoy about you; but I’m having a hard time deciding what I like best .. your graciousness or generosity. You really do a great job with both. Keep up the good work, my man! :-)

  3. Consilience says:

    For my money, we should throw every-damn one of them out in the House elections next year—God knows we can’t do any worse!

    • Liberals Demise says:

      Ted Kennedy’s car trunk going off a bridge in the middle of the night comes to mind.

  4. canary says:

    How much did rich Teddy Kennedy & Pat Kennedy’s (drug problem) bills come to. All they need is an ambulance stand by, for heart attacks or panick attacks that the despot Obomies might provoke. This might explain the rediculous smiles on the Obomies faces all the time, after taking happy pills. Or maybe Teddy was sharing.

  5. MinnesotaRush says:

    Well, heck! This is good news! Didn’t o-blah-blah AND the smartest woman in the world, BOTH, say they wanted us ALL to have the kind of health care they as members of congress have (???).

    I got a little tickle in my throat just startin’ .. gonna hafta call the Navy doctors in the morning. Do ya’ s’pose they make house calls?

    • MinnesotaRush says:

      By the way, how many of you all get to take your little doggie to work with you? Ya’ think they might have a handful of vets on hand for these thiefs pets, too?


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