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Congress Overrides Bush Veto; Delays Cuts to Medicare Physician Payments

In early July, the Senate approved a House-approved bill (HR 6331) that would delay a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare physician payments and provide a 1.1 percent Medicare payment increase next year, despite a presidential veto threat. The cuts had been scheduled to take effect on July 1, but Congress was granted additional time to act when an administrative measure from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid froze physician fee rates until July 15.

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (HR 6331) — passed in the House in late June — is similar to S. 3101, which was introduced in the Senate earlier by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) in June but failed to receive sufficient votes for cloture, the process requiring three-fifths majority (60 votes) to overcome a filibuster.

At press time, President Bush vetoed the bill but Congress voted to override the veto. President Bush had said that he supported blocking the 10.6 percent cut to physician payment rates, but did not want to reduce funding for Medicare Advantage plans, the health insurance plans offered by private, fee-for-service insurers such as Humana and UnitedHealth, which some seniors use instead of Medicare. Reduction of federal spending on these plans would help offset the bill's cost.

Among its provisions, the legislation would promote electronic prescribing, increase assistance to low-income beneficiaries, and reduce the co-payments for mental health services from 50 percent to 20 percent. It would also would delay a competitive bidding program for suppliers of medical equipment, repeal a competitive bidding program for medical laboratories, and prevent pay cuts to Tricare, the US military health care program.