There was a bit of drama today in Washington as Sen. Ted Kennedy, in the middle of a course of chemotherapy, made a trip to the Capital to vote on the bill that would reverse the Medicare pay cut for physicians. The measure had failed just before the recess by one vote, so Kennedy’s vote was thought to be crucial. But several Republicans defied the Republican leadership and President Bush and also voted for the measure. With veto proof margins in both houses, the bill now goes to President Bush for signature.
News reports today are not making predictions as to what Bush will do. He could sign the bill, he could veto it anyway, or he could sit on it the allowed 10 days, causing direct harm to physicians as CMS will have to start processing claims at the reduced rate.
Here is the press release from the American College of Physicians issued today:
Internists Applaud Senate Vote To Pass H.R. 6331 and Avert
Physician Payment Cut, Noting Bipartisan ‘Veto Proof’ Majority
Implore President Bush to Immediately Sign Into Law
Dr. Harris specifically said that ACP, “wants to acknowledge the difficult and courageous votes by the nine senators who reconsidered their earlier opposition to the bill and, this time, voted ‘yes’ for patient access to care. We also want to express our great appreciation to senators, like Senator Max Baucus, who stood with our patients and supported this bill from the beginning.”
“Our 126,000-member organization is pleased that this long-awaited action has finally taken place,” Dr. Harris noted. By garnering 69 votes this afternoon compared to only 30 against, the vote is strong enough to overcome a possible presidential veto. The large bipartisan votes by the Senate and the House for H.R. 6331 should clear the way for the bill to become law, with or without the President’s signature. It will continue current payment rates through the end of the year, ensures a 1.1 percent update in 2009 instead of another scheduled cut, makes improvements in payments for primary care services, and provides better coverage of preventive and mental health services. The measure, which was passed by the House of Representatives with a huge bipartisan majority last month, was championed by the ACP.
Dr. Harris pointed out that the Senate vote, which followed approval of an identical bill by the House of Representatives, is not the final step to averting a scheduled 10.6 percent cut in Medicare physician payment. The bill will now go to the President for his signature, at which point it would become law. If the President instead vetoes the bill, as some of his advisers have recommended, it would require a two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House to override the veto. The President’s advisers object to provisions in the bill that would reduce overpayments to Medicare managed care plans and rein in misleading marketing practices by some.
“We implore the President to reject the ill-considered advice that he veto this bill. H.R 6331 is an excellent bill that will halt a catastrophic collapse in patient access to physicians. It deserves his immediate signature,” continued Dr. Harris. “If necessary, though, we will ask both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto,” noting that both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the bill with enough votes to override a veto.
“Once H.R. 6331 becomes law, Congress will be able to redirect its attention from just ‘stopping the cut’ to enacting comprehensive reforms to correct a broken physician payment system. We look forward to working with Congress and the President on the changes that are needed to once again make internal medicine and primary care the top choices of our best and brightest young people, and to sustain the committed internists who are struggling to keep their practices open when Medicare doesn’t even cover their overhead.”
ACP members include 126,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults.