The Health Care That Members of Congress Get

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One of the great rallying cries we hear in the health care debate–including from President Obama–is that everyone should get coverage that is at least as good as what members of Congress get. How good is that? John Fritze at USA Today takes a look:

Like millions of employees, lawmakers choose from a range of private insurers. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management does not track how many members of Congress enroll in individual plans, but a Blue Cross Blue Shield preferred provider organization (PPO) is the most popular for all federal employees, according to the agency.

That Blue Cross plan scored well in an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The report found the federal plan had lower deductibles and co-pays than “typical” PPOs but did not rate as well as an average health maintenance organization (HMO). Most people insured through work, 58%, are in PPOs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Roland McDevitt, director of health care research for consulting firm Watson Wyatt, which performed the analysis in the report, called the federal plan “slightly more generous.”

A Kaiser survey found the average PPO premium for individual coverage was $4,802 in 2008. For a family, the premium was $12,937. The federal plan’s premiums were higher ($5,386) for individuals but lower ($12,335) for families, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

The government paid 69% of that premium for a family, less than the 73% average.

“These aren’t the wonderful, exemplary plans … that many people think they are,” said Jon Gabel of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “They are not the Cadillac plans.”

Lawmakers can also utilize taxpayer-subsidized care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had bypass surgery at Bethesda in 2003. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., battled cancer last year with treatments received at both sites.

Pete Sepp, a spokesman with the National Taxpayers Union and an expert on benefits received by members of Congress, questioned whether those additional perks skew how lawmakers look at health care.

“It sure can’t help their perception of what the average consumer has to deal with,” he said.

So how does that stack up with what you’ve got?