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GOP can hate ‘Obamacare,’ love congressional health perk

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

WASHINGTON — Democrats are challenging Republicans to renounce any insurance options provided by the federal government because the GOP unanimously opposes the health-care reform law, which they refer to as “Obamacare.”

During the opening days of the 112th Congress, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) offered a measure that would have required members of Congress to disclose whether they benefited from government-sponsored health care. The GOP blocked Crowley’s proposal 240 to 191.

But two Illinois freshman — Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party-backed Republican from McHenry and Republican Bobby Schilling, a Tea Party favorite from Downstate Colona — vow not to use the insurance available to Congress.

They’ll both be missing a lot.

Members of Congress do not receive free government insurance but purchase private health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, the nation’s largest employer-sponsored health plan with an estimated 2.15 million workers.

The federal employees program provides a smorgasbord of almost 300 private plans, “the widest selection of health plans in the country,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Options include five government-wide, fee-for-service plans, health savings/reimbursable accounts, a number of regional health maintenance organization plans for those workers scattered across the country and high-deductible, tax-advantaged plans.

All of the plans cover hospital, surgical and physician services, mental health services, prescription drugs and “catastrophic” coverage. There are no exclusions for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Contracts are negotiated annually with health insurance companies.

An individual’s contribution to health insurance under the federal employees program depends on the selected plan. But generally, according to the program, the worker pays about 30 percent of the costs while the agency he works for pays out 70 percent.

Members of Congress and their families also are entitled to priority care at military hospitals regardless of any military service. For instance, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who led the GOP fight against health-care reform, underwent triple-bypass surgery in 2003 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who successfully battled breast cancer last year, also got treatment there.

Members receive free outpatient care at Washington, D.C.-area military hospitals such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Inpatient care is billed at rates set by the Department of Defense.

Additionally, the Office of the Attending Physician, on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol Building, operates as an urgent care center.

The physician’s office provides congressional members — and the nine Supreme Court justices — with primary care medical services at modest cost. For an annual fee of $503, they get physicals and routine examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists from military hospitals and private practices. Members don’t have to pay for individual services or submit claims.

The Navy pays most of the expense, about $4 million annually.

Scripps Howard News Service

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