No Debating Congress' Lavish Health Care

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As members of Congress debate a "public option" for health care coverage, they remain safe and secure in their own generous health plan.

CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports it's subsidized by millions of your tax dollars annually. The government doesn't even keep track the total cost.

What exactly does Congress get? Sen. Lindsey Graham agreed to show CBS News first hand, flashing his Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance card.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of five plans offered to members of Congress. Most Americans, 74 percent are offered only one plan - if their employer offers insurance at all.

And members of Congress earn $174,000 a year - triple the income of the average working-age household. Yet their premiums are about the same.

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For them, there's no coverage limit - a major factor for the American families bankrupted or thrown into poverty by health care costs.

Pre-existing conditions? No problem for congressmen and women. The rest of us are out of luck.

And the elected officials get still more perks most Americans can only dream of. Got a cold? You probably have to take time off work and wait to see a doctor.

Not Congress.

"We're able to access that health care 24 hours a day when we're in Washington," Graham said, leading us to the Attending Physician's Office, a clinic inside the U.S. Capitol. They don't even have to leave the office.

About half of the members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, use the Attending Physician benefit. For $42 a month, they can get all the primary care they need - physical therapy, X-rays, minor surgery, specialists and a pharmacy for emergencies - no appointment needed.

They also get VIP hospital treatment from the best doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital. And they have a reserved spot at the elite Ward 72 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the late Sen. Strom Thurmond spent a lot of time.

Outpatient care is free. Well, free for them. Your tax dollars pick up the cost.

Graham says in the current climate, it's just not fair.

"If we pass a law that says a public option will be made available, I think people like myself should get out of this plan and go into the public option," he said.

That's unlikely. Congress has voted down all proposals that would switch them to a public option.

Even if you're mad enough to vote out your representatives, they still won't have to stress over health care. Their plan is portable. Until Medicare kicks in, they can keep the generous coverage for themselves and their families at the same low cost, still subsidized by your tax dollars.
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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