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 it supports — 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.
Here's a little taste of their "pretty good" health care deal:
- Members of Congress pay a flat, annual fee of $503 for all the care they receive at the OAP. (The fee has not changed significantly in 17 years.)
- Members do not pay for the individual services they receive at the OAP, nor do they submit claims through their federal employee health insurance policies.
- Services offered by the Office of the Attending Physician include physicals and routine examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work and physical therapy.
- 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.
- When specialists are needed, they are brought to the Capitol, at no charge to members of Congress.
- There is a culture centered on meeting the needs and whims of members of Congress, with almost no concern for cost.
- Physicians and nurses "will see you on the spot, on the beck and call."
It's no wonder our benevolent overlords in Congress seem to be hopelessly out of touch with regard to health care — they live in an ivory tower.