Originally published in MedPage Today
by Charles Bankhead
Recently, I learned that members of Congress have their very own medical clinic. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Being a member of Congress is a tough job, filled with stress and posturing and righteous indignation. I know that if I had to decide whether to spend tax money on a Bridge to Nowhere or a pet airport that has flights to nowhere, I would probably need an aspirin afterward.
The Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) provides low-cost (read: free) healthcare services to members of Congress, congressional staffers, jurists on the Supreme Court, and the occasional tourist who faints during a walk-through. If President Obama showed up one day in need of medical attention, he probably wouldn’t be turned away.
In theory, legislators who want to take advantage of the healthcare services (rumored to be the best that money can buy) pay an annual fee. I say “in theory,” because our friends at ABC News learned that freeloaders occasionally show up and, like dues-paying members, get the same level of care, provided by Navy physicians. When necessary, specialists are brought in free of charge.
I was thinking about the OAP within the context of the ongoing debate in Congress about healthcare reform. Without question, the most contentious issue has been the so-called “public option,” which appears dead for the time being. Do you think members of Congress consider the OAP a “public option?” After all, the OAP is funded by taxes, almost $4 million a year. I wonder whether any members of Congress who oppose a public option ever go to the OAP. Wouldn’t it be funny if some Senators and Representatives thought they should have a public option but not the rest of us? Maybe funny isn’t the right word.
A candidate for governor in South Carolina recently made headlines by comparing recipients of public assistance to “stray animals.” Harkening to his grandmother’s advice not to feed stray animals, the candidate was quoted as saying, “You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating a problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that kind of behavior, because they don’t know any better.”
Do you think the candidate would include members of Congress among the “stray animals?” After all, they’re getting top-notch healthcare for free or at a greatly reduced price. How is that different from any other form of public assistance?
See where I’m going with this? I didn’t think so. Keep reading.
(To digress for a moment: Lest you think the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate is some off-the-wall blowhard with a snowball’s chance of winning the election, consider that he currently occupies the office of lieutenant governor.)
My thinking finally came full circle, and I see a point on the horizon. If poor people get something for free, it’s called welfare. On the other hand, if you can afford something but you still get it for free, it’s not welfare. What is it? Largesse?
Maybe some of you have a better term for it. I’m fresh out.
Charles Bankhead is a staff writer at MedPage Today and blogs at In Other Words, the MedPage Today staff blog.
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