I was told the OBGYN practice where the wives of two prominent Democrats are partners reserves its morning appointments for "important people." It was an intriguing claim, especially given the fact that Foxhall OB/GYN Associates does not accept Medicaid even as the office is being used as a prop in a Democrat’s congressional campaign.
I decided to investigate. Could I get a morning appointment? Was I one of the "important people"?
After an awkward 15-minute conversation with the office manager, it turned out I was—though only after she realized the story I was writing might not reflect well upon the practice. It also helped that I am not enrolled in Medicaid, because Spring Valley, the upper northwest D.C. suburb where Foxhall resides, does not, I was told, have the "demographics for it."
John Foust has made his wife the face of his campaign for Virginia’s 10th District. Dr. Marilyn Jerome is an OBGYN, who practices alongside Attorney General Eric Holder’s wife at Foxhall.
Dr. Jerome claims that her husband is a better candidate because he will never get between a woman and her doctor. "As an OBGYN," Foust attacks his Republican opponent Barbara Comstock for opposing Medicaid expansion. Failure to expand Medicaid to rural hospitals could be "devastating," he says.
Dr. Jerome has also written in support of the Affordable Care Act on the Foxhall website, citing the Medicaid expansion as beneficial to low-income women.
"For over 30 years, John’s wife, Dr. Marilyn Jerome has practiced obstetrics and gynecology with Foxhall Ob-Gyn, a practice dedicated to providing compassionate reproductive healthcare for women in NW Washington, D.C., and the surrounding communities," Foust’s campaign website reads.
It turns out, however, that not all women can receive "compassionate reproductive healthcare" from Foxhall. The practice doesn’t accept Medicaid.
That fact seemed noteworthy. I wrote a story for the Washington Free Beacon highlighting how, in public, Dr. Jerome is preaching the Affordable Care Act and praising the Medicaid expansion while, in her practice, she doesn't accept it.
The next day, a former patient of Eric Holder’s wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, reached out to me with another interesting detail about Foxhall. The woman claimed she was a patient for 15 years, and always wondered why she could never get a morning appointment. It seemed worth an interview.
"Finally, in one of the last years I said, ‘Why? Why can I never get a morning appointment? You say they’re all taken,’" the woman said, relaying a conversation she'd had with a receptionist at Foxhall several years ago. "When do I need to call to get one?’"
"She said, ‘Those are reserved for important people.’"
Is Foxhall an "elitist" practice, as the woman claimed? I decided to call myself to make an early morning appointment.
"Who’s your doctor?" the receptionist asked me when I called last week.
"I’ve never been, I’m a new patient," I said.
"Oh, new patients can’t get in before 10 A.M.," the woman said. Besides, they didn’t have any openings until late August or September.
On Monday, I called Foxhall back with some follow up questions, this time identifying myself as a reporter. I spoke with the office manager and asked about the former patient's claim.
"That’s not accurate," the office manager said. "No one here would ever say that, so that’s not true. Where are you getting that from?"
The office manager said it sounded like a "disgruntled patient."
It’s just that "those appointments tend to fill up first," she said.
"We don’t have special appointments for special people," she added.
I told her I had tried to make an appointment for myself and couldn’t get one before 10 a.m.
"Well, we don’t typically start the day that early for a new patient," she said.
I moved on to a different topic.
"I know that you do not accept Medicaid, and Dr. Jerome had written a post on your website in support of the Affordable Care Act and part of it mentions how the Medicaid expansion will benefit low-income people," I said. "I was just wondering why the practice itself—your practice does not accept Medicaid?"
"I’m kind of getting the feeling that the information you’re getting has nothing to do with our practice but that it’s more that you have a political agenda," the office manager said. "There’s nothing on our website, we don’t have a blog. We don’t take political positions."
"So you’re saying that’s not on the website?" I asked, referring to Dr. Jerome’s "medical news" release on Obamacare. "It’s not associated with Foxhall at all?"
I guided the office manager to the link on their website, noting that Dr. Jerome’s picture appears below the post.
"All in all, the ACA is good for women," Jerome wrote, noting that millions of low-income women "could benefit from Medicaid expansion."
"Well, I just did a basic search, and I have an appointment for you tomorrow at 8:45 a.m.," the office manager informed me. "For a new patient. They are available."
The office manager said Drs. Jerome and Malone are both "primarily fee-for-service" OBGYNs.
"You could probably paint that fact in a negative way, too, if you wanted," she said.
Jerome only accepts the Johns Hopkins health insurance plan, while Malone takes United. Both have positive reviews on Vitals.com, a medical review site, even though many patients are forced to pay without insurance.
"Dr. Jerome is my favorite doctor, even though she does not take insurance," said one patient in 2012. "That's saying a lot!"
"I have been seeing Dr. Malone for several years. Even though the practice doesn't accept my insurance, her knowledge of my healthcare and wellbeing is what keeps me going back," said a patient of Holder’s wife in 2010. "For the type of service and bedside manner I receive everytime I make an appointment, I don't mind paying out of pocket for the services offered."
Her former patient, whom I spoke with, said she was forced to switch doctors after Malone stopped taking the woman’s Blue Cross Blue Shield federal insurance plan. When she ran into Dr. Malone in the hallway, Malone tried to convince her to switch back.
"Well it’s not that expensive out-of-pocket, you might want to check to see what the benefits are,’" Dr. Malone said, according to the woman.
The woman said she "just didn’t have the money" and switched to another doctor at Foxhall, whose "condescending" and "elitist" attitude ultimately caused her to leave the practice entirely.
"It is not about politics or power, it is about affecting [sic] change, making our lives and our community a better place," Jerome said in support of her husband’s campaign.
However, in her own practice Medicaid is not accepted because the community in Spring Valley doesn’t "have the demographics for it."
Despite informing her of my name and news organization, the office manager seemed surprised when I asked if she wanted to give me her last name for attribution.
"I feel like you’re being disingenuous," she said.
I asked her again if she wanted to comment on why Foxhall does not accept Medicaid.
"It’s just not a plan that we participate in," she said. "I don’t think in this area we have the demographics for it."
The office manager added that "there are several reasons," and that I should check whether Sibley Memorial, the hospital where Foxhall is located, takes Medicaid, speculating that the hospital might not accept it.
A search of gynecologists on the D.C. Medicaid database returned two physicians who participate in Medicaid at Sibley.
The conversation nearing its end, the office manager declined to give me her name, but made sure to take down mine.
"What’s your name? And who do you work for? The Beacon?"
"I’m not one of the ‘important people,’" Dr. Malone’s former patient had told me. "I’ve never been one of the ‘important people.’"
If only she worked for the Washington Free Beacon.