Military and Police

Petition to Remove Healthcare Privileges from Congress Approaching One Million Signatures

“Should they require outpatient care at a hospital for any reason, lawmakers can get 100% taxpayer funded treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center”

Daniel Jimenez of Portland, Oregon started a Change.org petition back in March to “remove health-care subsidies for members of Congress and their families.”  In two months, the petition has garnered over 953 thousand signatures, putting it less than 50 thousand short of its stated goal of one million.  It will surely get there, but this is a much more complicated issue than many of the nearly one million that have signed may realize – and understandably so.

It appears that Mr. Jimenez means well.  His father lost a bout with cancer several years back and he feels that he’d still be alive today if he had access to healthcare at the time. Who can blame him for that? I certainly can’t. It’s a tragic situation.  He also acknowledges in his very next paragraph that premiums and other health costs are currently skyrocketing – but he fails to mention that Obamacare is as much of a reason as anything else.

Unfortunately, the petition turns into a crusade against only those members of Congress in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act when it would better serve everyone if it were aimed at the out of touch lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.  I’m for any movement pushing ideas on how we can remind members of the Washington swamp that they work for us and not the other way around – but if Jimenez realizes that healthcare is unreasonably expensive for people under Obamacare, then I don’t understand why he is so partisan in using the replacement of it by conservatives as the only reason to strike back.  More importantly, I don’t know how well he grasps the actual history and reasons for the current policy on healthcare for members of Congress in the first place.

Prior to the passage of Obamacare in 2010, the Congress and Senate – along with the rest of the federal employee workforce – got their health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).  The FEHBP was started in 1959 and not taxpayer subsidized in any way other than that the Fed paid a portion of the insurance just like most employers do in the private sector.

In the case of the FEHBP, the federal government paid somewhere around 75% of the premium – so it was a good deal for federal employees including Congressmen and their families.  When the ACA passed, it mandated that all members of Congress and their staff must forfeit the FEHBP and shop for their insurance in the ACA marketplace going forward.

The argument Democrats have grown fond of using against Republicans trying to repeal and replace Obamacare is that they’re only doing it so that they can get their old insurance back.  They’re not entirely wrong here.  Swamp Republicans did try to sneak in an amendment to allow them to opt out of Trumpcare and go back to the FEHBP, but it got scrapped when members of both parties made its removal an issue.

The current bill that just passed the House does not afford this flexibility to any member of Congress or their staff.  Mr. Jimenez, be it Obamacare or Trumpcare, members of Congress in both parties will still be required to shop around in the same market as us.  With that being said, I’ll still sign your petition. Here’s why.

For a mere $500 per year, lawmakers can get any outpatient medical treatment they could possibly need from doctors and nurses at the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) located conveniently in the capitol building.  Lawmakers have access to the OAP for vaccinations, lab work, X-Rays, physical therapy treatments, pharmaceuticals and more – and they don’t even have to leave the building to get it.

Should they need a specialist such as a chiropractor, one will even come to them.  Should they require outpatient care at a hospital for any reason, lawmakers can get 100% taxpayer funded treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in DC without the involvement of insurance companies and the co-pays, premiums, and deductibles that come with them.

There are many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have opted out of even the old FEHBP plan to go with their spouse’s cheaper insurance plan for the family because they could rely on abusing the OAP and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the tax payer dime.  Why pay for insurance like everyone else when you can jump the line of disabled and sick veterans to get your bypass surgery in your own exclusive wing of the hospital for free? As much as he preaches the conservative values of self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your own boot straps, Republican Representative Mitch McConnell did exactly that back in 2003.  If you needed one more reason to shake your head in disgust at this phony, now you have it.

The Democrats do it too.  While Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz has been elevated for being “brave”, “courageous”, and “dedicated” for surviving breast cancer, it was all of us who paid for her seven surgeries and medications in 2008.

In 2007, Congress opened a probe into Walter Reed for its “VIP” ward that was notorious for giving superior treatment to lawmakers while neglecting its primary responsibility – the soldiers that fight and die for our country.  As is the case with most Congressional “investigations,” the road led to nowhere.

Two years later, Jay Shaylor and Mark Abdelmalek over at ABC News did a phenomenal expose on the OAP and Walter Reed.  Their findings on the abuse still taking place were astounding.  Of course, this was back when ABC still believed in real reporting.  In more recent years, the hidden medical services for Congress have continued to be swept under the rug – which is a big part of the reason Daniel Jimenez and the 950 thousand people who signed his petition are under the impression that Congress and their family members have government subsidized health care and are independent of both Obamacare and Trumpcare.  On paper, they’re not. In practice, they are.

Aside from the OAP and Walter Reed mega perks, I also find it excessive that lawmakers are granted health insurance benefits for life after they’ve retired from “serving” their country.  How many other employers extend this benefit to their employees after retirement?  How many regular Americans toil away at their jobs long into their golden years because they can’t afford to lose the employer contribution to their health insurance plan?

Yeah, I’ll sign your petition Mr. Jimenez.  I don’t agree with your total assessment of the situation but I’ll shed my bias against Democrats and the Affordable Care Act to go bi-partisan with you on this one.  We’re not going to get anywhere with your proposition as far as Trumpcare goes because it’s a non-issue. Officially, they’re shopping in the same markets as us now, just like they were under Obamacare.

Aside from that, this OAP business has got to be addressed and Walter Reed needs to be focused on the veterans who protected our nation with their lives.  Close the doors to the state of the art Congressional wing at Reed yesterday and reopen them for war heroes the day before that.  Our veterans deserve better and our out of touch bureaucrats need to learn how to live down here on earth with the rest of us.  If Republicans and Democrats alike want to mandate how we get our medical treatment, let’s give them a taste of their own medicine.

T.B. Lefever

T.B. Lefever is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. T.B. is also a certified Field Training Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University. Follow T.B. on Twitter @tblefever.

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