National Consumers League

Good News: Medicare Bill Passes in the Senate


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By Catherine Bourque, NCL Health Intern

This summer, Catherine has interned in the health policy department at the National Consumers League. She’s from Washington, DC and, this fall, will begin her senior year at Cornell University, where she’s studying Government and Spanish.

About a month ago, both houses of Congress voted to override President Bush’s veto of HR 6331, the Medicare Physician Payment Bill, which stopped pay reductions to physicians treating Medicare patients. We at the National Consumers League support the passage of the bill. It will be crucial to protecting the healthcare of senior citizens across the country who would have been denied care had Congress not taken action to protect this important program and the providers who make the program possible.

Some background: on July 1st, a 10 percent reduction in the pay rate to Medicare physicians went into effect, leading many physicians to stop accepting Medicare patients for cost reasons and making it difficult for many senior citizens to find physicians who would. The Medicare bill will delay the 10 percent deduction for 18 months, financing the continued payments to physicians with a reduction in payment to the Medicare Advantage program, the Medicare health plan program.

After both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted by veto-proof margins to pass the bill, President Bush followed through on his threat to veto the bill, citing that the bill would hurt the Medicare Advantage program. The Medicare Advantage program provides flexibility for Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in private insurance programs.

The House overrode the veto by a vote of 383 to 41, with 24 more Republicans voting in favor of the bill. Similarly, in the Senate, the veto was overridden by a vote of 70 to 26 with 21 Republicans voting to override the veto. While not a permanent fix for the Medicare payment system, the passage of this bill shows Congress’s commitment to providing care for the elderly and making this care a reasonable venture for physicians.