Socialized Medicine In America!
If anyone in the Congress called for every American to have a personal attending physician in their place of business, paid for by the government and available to provide primary care at any time of day, offering everything from everyday physicals to X-rays to prescription drugs to physical therapy, they would be laughed out of the chamber. But frequently, politicians all the way up to the President say that Americans should have the opportunity to get the same services that their member of Congress gets.
Well, that is what they get.
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.
This costs a member of Congress a bit over $40 a month.
Now, I'm going to pull back slightly, but only slightly, from my criticism. Members of Congress live all over the country, their primary care doctors are scattered everywhere, and if they have an illness or nagging injury requiring care, they actually need something in Washington on which they can rely.
But the price for this peace of mind hasn't risen in decades. And many of the same people who rail against government-run health care have no problem visiting a government hospital with government-funded doctors for their primary and even specialist care.
By contrast, those who don't have access to such a setup frequently have to turn to something like this:
Over the weekend, thousands of Texans attended what is being called the “largest free clinic ever held in the United States” to get health care they otherwise could not afford. ABC-13, a local Houston station, reported that the event showed that there is an “epidemic” of people without proper health coverage in Texas:
It’s an epidemic here in Texas and Harris County — people without health insurance. On Saturday, the uninsured lined up to get their needs met.
More than 2,000 people came to Reliant Center to see doctors for free. Many of the people we talked to can’t afford health insurance, especially in the rough economy. Some say it shows the need for health care reform.
They either wait for years for a free clinic of that scale to come around to their part of the country, or, fearing the cost of health care, they try to walk off an illness or injury, and they die.
It's quite a contrast...