Republicans in Congress have raised the specter of a bloated, "socialized," bureaucrat-run nightmare of a health care system as a means of undermining the White House's effort at a systematic overhaul. And yet, as Democratic sources are now pointing out, when medical crisis hit close to home, many of these same officials turned to a government-run hospital for their own intensive care and difficult surgeries.
Take, for instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who warned that "a government takeover of health care" would "take away the care that people already have [and] are perfectly satisfied with." In its place, the senator said, would be "a system in which care and treatment will be either delayed or denied."
That was July 2009. In February 2003, McConnell actually went to one of those government-run institutions (where treatment is, apparently, "either delayed or denied") for a procedure of his own. The Kentucky Republican traveled to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to have an elective coronary artery bypass surgery after it had been revealed that he had arterial blockages.
Also known as Bethesda Naval Hospital, the National Naval Medical Center is the premier branch of the United States Navy's system of medical centers -- as in, the government runs it. It's also the place where elected officials of all ideological stripes and political branches often go get surgery performed. Indeed, members of Congress pay an annual fee for the privilege of getting treatment at Bethesda Naval Hospital or, for that matter, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is, as longtime Democrat Martin Frost wrote for Politico, "like belonging to an HMO." Only, in these cases, the surgery is conducted at a public facility.
None of this has stopped some of the same officials who have taken advantage of this congressional perk from railing against the intrusiveness and inefficiencies of a health care system with greater government involvement.
Senator John McCain, (R-Ariz.) for instance, recently applauded the town hall protesters who were, in his words, revolting "against a government-run health system." That was August 2009. In May of 2000, McCain had surgery at the Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove a potentially lethal melanoma from his left temple.
Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.), meanwhile, has warned of the rationing of care, expensive costs, and reduced quality that would come under a government-run health care plan. In April 2003, however, he traveled to Bethesda Naval Hospital to undergo hip replacement surgery in an attempt to alleviate degenerative arthritis in his left hip.
Senator George Voinovich, (R-Ohio), has declared that a "bureaucratic Washington-run government plan is not the answer" to the nation's health care needs. In June 2003, the Ohio Republican (who is retiring from the Senate in 2010) went to Bethesda Naval Hospital to have a pacemaker installed.
The best example of this double standard, however, may be Rep. Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) who compared government-run health care to an elephant, stomping on and killing off the mice of the private insurance industry.
Blunt has had two procedures done at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The first came in July 2002, when he underwent surgery to remove his left kidney. The second came a year later, when he underwent prostate surgery after being diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer.
To be strictly accurate, there is an important distinction between a government-run hospital and a government-run health insurance agency. The public plan, which is the focus of much of the GOP's ire, is the latter. Bethesda Naval Hospital is the former.
But conservatives have long used the notion of "socialized medicine" to defeat health care reform efforts -- even though when it comes to the flagship Naval Hospital just miles away, the worries about bureaucratic nightmares, low quality care, and long lines seem to be wiped away.